Today, many people know the channel AMC as the home to popular and critically acclaimed television series’ such as The Walking Dead, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad. If one were to look at the catalog of previous original television programs hosted on AMC, they would see that prior to Mad Men’s initial inception in 2007, there weren’t any original scripted programs that aired on AMC. However, AMC has been around since 1984, so for over 20 years prior to the introduction of original scripted content, AMC has been living up to its name, American Movie Classics, and has been airing classic American films. The way most people see this channel today indicates a clear and distinct change in the network branding of AMC from a channel that served as the home of beloved and classic films to a channel that focuses on original television content, all while maintaining the same core values of valuing story and quality and appealing to a broader audience of film and television enthusiasts alike.
AMC was founded in 1984 as a premium channel with the intention of airing films important to American film canon, primarily from before the 1950s although eventually they shifted towards more modern films as well as classic films. It seems that the core audience AMC was trying to garner were just film lovers and people who valued the preservation of films that are important and significant to American film history. The channel mainly targeted film enthusiasts, a demographic that generally consists of the middle/upper class and educated folks. The establishment of AMC was preceded by the founding of premium film channels HBO and Showtime, founded in 1972 and 1983 respectively, however AMC strived to differentiate itself from the two by focusing not necessarily on popular films but rather on historic films that are engrained in the fabric of American filmmaking. HBO literally stands for Home Box Office, which suggests that they were just an avenue for popular blockbuster films that had success at the box office to be able to be viewed to some capacity at home. This distinction and the commitment to classic films is what made the AMC brand stand out to film-lovers.
In her analysis of Nickelodeon’s network branding, Banet-Weiser says about Nickelodeon that “The language of the brand is maintained by personal narratives- lifestyle, identity, empowerment- more than a more historical language of advertising, which relied heavily on a product’s efficiency in a competitive market…Brand culture thus provides context for the cultural and economic developments that have shaped Nickelodeon’s distinct identity in the television landscape” which suggests that Nickelodeon succeeded in building its brand because it held a place on cable that didn’t exist and it created its own niche community that gave a certain demographic, in this case kids, a place where they feel like the programming understands them and speaks directly to their identity (Banet-Weiser, 71). I believe that AMC did something similar with its audience, but instead of kids and pre-teens who wanted to reject the authority of their parents, AMC created a community of people who wanted to preserve the importance of cinema in American history and wanted to enjoy and discover classic films that may be well regarded in the history of cinema or may be films that were little heard of.
Banet-Weiser also talks a little bit about the opening of Nickelodeon studios and how that physical location epitomizes everything that the network branding stands for. It’s a place where kids can gather around their favorite Nickelodeon characters and television settings to experience the child empowerment that the network conveys to its audience on television. AMC very similarly has a physical event that brings together this community of film enthusiasts on a consistent basis and it reinforces the demographic and the brand that AMC captured. Since 1993, AMC has hosted an annual Film Preservation Festival in order to raise funds and awareness for film recovery. In an article about the AMC hosted annual event, AMC former programming executive David Sehring said that “AMC has raised about $2 million for preservation” by 2003 from this festival. While film festivals are very common since the 2000s, the significance about this one is that is in in fact hosted by a television channel and is intended to support the preservation of old films, which aligns with the values of the AMC brand.
AMC began to change its brand a little around this time in the early-mid 2000s, and instead of solely focusing on airing classic films from before the 1950s and 1960s, AMC changed its logo and started to air films regardless of their age and the programmers also sought out serialized programming to run on the channel. They abbreviated the “American Movie Classics”, which was how the channel was generally identified, to just AMC, to take the emphasis off of the “classics” aspect that the channel once was renowned for. This may have cheapened the brand for some arthouse and indie film lovers, however the consistent broadcasting of movies new or old was appealing enough to maintain a core demographic.
It wasn’t until 2007 that AMC picked up their first original scripted program, Mad Men, after it had been turned down by the aforementioned HBO and Showtime, followed shortly by the debut of Breaking Bad just a few months later. I believe that the current state of AMC’s brand is solely based on the one-two punch of two high quality original programs that didn’t alienate AMC’s clientele and that reinforced AMC’s focus on high class and well thought out content, even if it was in television form rather than film. This dedication to quality programming is exemplified by the channel’s slogan that debuted in 2009: “Story Matters Here”. With this tagline, AMC branded itself as a network that broadcasts quality programming, but also became accessible to people who deemed themselves not as “high class” or “artsy” as the previous demographic that AMC was appealing to. This ultimately worked out better for the success of the network because the newer format appeals to a broader group of people than the older format which to some people felt stale and snobbish.
Ultimately, AMC is now what many would consider one of the leading networks when it comes to exciting, thought-provoking, and quality original programming. They reworked their slogan from “Story Matters Here” (2009) to “Something More” (2013) to further accommodate their transition from arthouse film hub to popular television programming network, and I suspect that in the coming years they will only increase the scope of programs that they offer to further appeal to a less niche audience, while still maintaining their image and reputation as a place where people can watch high quality films and television shows.
Banet-Weiser, S. (2007). The Nickelodeon brand: Buying and selling the audience. Nickelodeon and Consumer Citizenship. Duke University Press.
Elber, L. (2002, August 30). Even 1970s Rock Fests Need Film Preservation. The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from http://www.articles.latimes.com.