AMC says Netflix improved ratings for ‘Mad Men’ and ‘The Walking Dead’

A poster for The Walking Dead on AMC and NetflixWhile many channels and studios seem to see online streaming as a killer of business, the AMC Network seems to be, well, pretty happy with it. Last year, Netflix secured the exclusive rights to stream every back episode of the AMC shows Mad Men and Breaking Bad. The first season of The Walking Dead is also on the streaming service. The deal appears to be a success. AMC reports that its revenues were up about 40 percent in the first three months of 2012, and profits were up 20 percent thanks to strong ratings and performance of the new seasons of Mad Men and The Walking Dead. Part of the reason for their success? According to CEO Josh Sapan, Netflix and Amazon definitely helped.

“2012 got off to a strong start for AMC Networks, with double digit increases in net revenues, AOCF and operating income,” said Sapan. “Continued viewer enthusiasm for our programming resulted in ratings gains for our national networks, most notably AMC’s The Walking Dead, which ended its second season with nine million total viewers, an increase of 50 percent over last season’s finale. The series reigns as the highest-rated scripted drama in basic cable history in advertiser’s key demos. The fifth season of AMC’s Mad Men currently ranks as the most watched season ever of the series, outperforming the prior season by double-digits. These successes underscore the strength of our original programming strategy, which continues to drive audience and advertiser demand for our networks.”

In a conference call with investors yesterday, Sapan was a bit more explicit, according to WSJ: “New viewers are finding these shows on a digital service, catching up on prior seasons and then tuning into AMC for new seasons in greater numbers, many for the first time.”

He argues that because AMC struck its content deals with companies like Netflix and Amazon in an “extremely careful” way (via THR), it hasn’t hurt the network, but is actually helping to drive the pay TV ecosystem for AMC. Other media companies like Viacom, which owns VH1, Nickelodeon, and other networks, have blamed recent ratings declines on the Internet.

Though ratings and revenues are up, it is not all good news for AMC. Dish Networks, a satellite TV operator, has decided to drop the channel from its lineup. Dish cited poor ratings, but AMC CEO Sapan says that the threat to drop AMC is a direct result of some ongoing litigation between the two companies over its participation in Voom HD, a collection of HD channels that Dish decided to embrace but then drop in 2008.