I once worked for The Family Channel, and as many already know I was involved in several attempts to rename it, for a variety of business and personally motivated reasons when my management took control. At the time, despite those wishes results consistently emerged that indicated a halo effect between the channel’s name and its audience. Eventually, it was jettisoned and has ultimately moprhed into Freeform, which, as its remaining viewers know, is neither exemplary of being “free” or having a definitive “form”. So it appears the name is again available.
Based on what went down yesterday at AMC Networks, it appears that some consideration may be warranted to claim it. As Lillian Rizzo of CNBC.com reported:
(T)he company that owns TV channels like AMC and IFC, named Kristin Dolan its new CEO on Wednesday.
Dolan, who will become CEO effective Feb. 27, has served on AMC’s board and worked closely with the company. She’s an industry veteran, and most recently served as CEO of 605, a data analytics firm that measures audience numbers for TV networks.
She is also the spouse, albeit separated, of James Dolan, the AMC Networks interim executive chairman James Dolan.
And as Dade Hayes of Deadline reminded, if the narrative of a Dolan taking a more direct role in running a family business sounds familiar, it’s because it was less than three months ago that James took on that interim chairmanship role,:
Kristen) will succeed Christina Spade, the company’s former CFO who lasted just three months in the top job last year before parting ways with the company during a time of turbulence for the industry and the broader economy. James Dolan took a more hands-on role as Spade was headed out the door and, in steering the company through the past few months, has presided over the layoffs of 20% of the company workforce and a number of programming pullbacks.
And as Wilson Chapman as IndieWire summized, her family connection wasn’t all that unique to AMC:
AMC’s org. chart already resembled the Dolan Family tree. James Dolan is the son of Charles Dolan, the famed founder of HBO and Cablevision, and the controlling owner of AMC Networks. The family owns several other companies, including MSG Entertainment, MSG Sports, and BBC America. James Dolan succeeded his father as chairman of AMC in 2020.
I have had limited contact with James, though I did see up close the mercurial behavior that has made him as a Page Six favorite, where in his role as head of Madison Square Garden he has made news historically and recently, banning everyone from New York Knicks great Charles Oakley to lawyers at firms which are engaged in ongoing cases against him, defending his right to defend his turf in one of the few interviews he has granted outside of the MSG Networks which sports reporters consider the Al Jazeera of that world. Dolan, who fancies himself a guitar impresario, graced attendees at a conference I attended with a seemingly half-sober warbling, a heated argument with the host (one of my superiors) and a memorable meltdown that my colleagues shrugged off as “Well, Mob Boss Jimmy showed up tonight”.
As Hayes’ Deadline article continued, as the glory days of the AMC that emerged from the opportunistic–and necessary–move into premium scripted content that was led by MAD MEN–ironically a passion project from Matthew Weiner, late of THE SOPRANOS–diminished, James Dolan presided over a series of personnel and business moves that have left the current incarnation of AMC as a shell of what it once was, both in valuation and in talent:
The company prospered after being spun off from Cablevision in 2011, with original hits like The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad and Mad Men enjoying peak levels of linear distribution at a time when Netflix original programming was in its infancy. With ad and affiliate revenue flagging and profit models for streaming still not clear across the industry, the going has gotten a lot tougher in recent years. A Wall Street Journal report earlier today said the company rebuffed takeover overtures by Roku, Lionsgate and several private equity firms as its valuation dipped below $1 billion. Word of the interest by potential acquirers boosted shares 10%, but they remain less than half their value a year ago.
Before Spade’s elevation to CEO in 2022, AMC Networks had been led on an interim basis by Matt Blank, a media veteran known for his lengthy run as CEO of Showtime. Blank stepped in after Josh Sapan departed in mid-2021, as did COO Ed Car(r)oll a short time later. Between them, Sapan and Carroll had 60 years of experience at AMC and Rainbow. (I personally knew many others at slightly lower levels, with decades of expertise and success, who followed those two executives out the door)
Kristen Dolan does indeed have a decent resume, with roles at the company dating back to 1989. She’s recently run a data and analytics firm that many of my peers were clients and employees of, after having founded 605 seven years ago, concurrent with James’ selling of Cablevision to Altice for $17.7B. Her key roles were in affiliate sales and marketing, where our paths occasionally crossed. To be sure, Kristen is smart, enthusiastic, and polished. But she benefitted greatly with the help of those now-departed executive colleagues, many of whom who suggested that perhaps if she didn’t marry the boss, she might not have been elevated as high as she was.
When James made that sale, AMC lost one of its key bargaining chips in growing and maintaining distribution, well ahead of the onrush of cord cutting that these days would have made such a move advisable. AMCN today, by James’ own admission, is challenged as exclusively a content company, lacking the kind of portfolio diversity that it benefitted from, and cited as a key reason for the layoffs and changers he instituted at the end of 2022. James has been spearheading a controversial and increasingly expensive pivot into live events, with the MSG Sphere, a 17,500-seat concert and immersive movie venue rising like a spaceship on the Las Vegas strip, a $2.2B gambit advertised with a $7M spot during the Super Bowl. So while James has taken on more day-to-day responsibility at AMC, his own passion projects have him more than a bit pulled in other directions. So Kristen will apparently be filling some of that void for him.
Perhaps Kristen’s negotiating savvy may come into play sooner than later. Roku’s interest has reportedly increased, and given its own challenges from its earnings reports released this week their ability to combine with a content provider is crucial to their own continued existence. It’s difficult to imagine a scenario that doesn’t result in some sort of graceful exit, or at minimum an alliance, for the Dolans. Amicable exes can achieve positive results, or at least so I’m told.
But it’s only my place to observe based on my own experience. I’m not family. And as the astute philosopher Michael Corleone once observed: Don’t ever take sides with anyone against the Family again.
Until next time…