In the slow march to television consolidation, AMC has bought a massive stake in BBC America. The result is that they'll be running the BBC show here in the United States.
The deal has AMC investing $200 million for a 49.9% stake in BBC America. BBC America is the U.S. network owned and run by BBC Worldwide, which is actually the commercial subsidiary to the true-blue, license-funded BBC. "Commercial" is the key difference from the two arms, since advertising of any kind is not okay for the BBC, but totally fine for the non-UK, BBC Worldwide channels.
The deal has a bunch of interesting features: AMC gets operational control of BBC America and will be in charge of advertising and sales to affiliates. And AMC gets to put the financial results of the new channel in its financial statements. What BBC Worldwide gets is, apparently, just retaining the majority (50.1%) stake in the channel and a promise that AMC will run the channel " consistent with BBC's editorial standards and policies." I am fascinated as to what that means since they're mostly concerned with news reporting, and BBC America is primarily a place that re-airs already made shows. Although I'd love to see an American show try out the BBC's new impartiality guidelines.
The other interesting part of this story is that it's apparently a move that gives both channels more weight in the face of provider mergers, like Comcast/Time Warner and AT&T/DirecTV. Striking deals with behemoths like that will be easier if a company can offer a bunch of properties with high ratings and the more-niche-critically-acclaimed fare. I'm betting AMC Networks, whose only real attention comes from AMC and not IFC, Sundance TV, and WeTV, is going to be leaning heavily on The Walking Dead and Doctor Who when making ad and distribution deals. As for BBC America, the joint venture means that they're not negotiating on the strength of a single channel.
While I doubt we're going to see much of a change on the viewer side of things, it's an example of the effect that these mergers have on smaller networks whose personal brands are based on mostly niche and "high quality" shows. Even AMC, with all the acclaim and viewership it's had over the last decade, feels it can't negotiate on even terms with a monolith.
That's worrisome, because part of the so-called new golden age of TV is the fearless way that cable channels, especially AMC, have tackled their programming. If the mergers make them more concerned, there's every chance they'll be more cautious. Which is ironic, because it'll cede even more ground to pay cable and the Internet.