James Dolan’s empire is beset by challenges. AMC Networks tops the List.
For decades, James Dolan had a front-row seat to the storm gathering around the cable-TV business. The son of an industry pioneer, he predicted in 2015 that subscribers could plunge 25% over the next five years, warning that it’s “going to have an impact on the programmers.” Later that year, he distanced himself from part of the business, selling Cablevision Systems Corp., the TV and internet provider his father founded in the 1970s, for $17.7 billion. But despite forecasting an ominous future, Dolan held onto his stable of cable channels, AMC Networks Inc., even as things grew worse.
These days, AMC Networks is just one piece of the Dolan empire facing challenges. His sports and entertainment companies recently underwent layoffs. MSG Sphere, a new event venue in Las Vegas set to open this year, is over budget after its costs soared by more than $300 million. Madison Square Garden is under fire for using facial recognition technology to deny entry to lawyers whose firms are suing the company. In late January, Dolan suggested he’d halt alcohol sales at New York Rangers hockey games in response to an ongoing investigation by the New York State Liquor Authority.
At a time of mounting pressure on Dolan, he’s also been acting as executive chairman of AMC Networks since late last year, after its chief executive officer stepped down having served less than three months in the role and the company announced a restructuring and a 20% reduction in staff.
Meanwhile, even as the cable industry has grown more imperiled, Dolan has so far spurned opportunities to sell his networks. In the second half of 2021, two private equity firms, Apollo Global Management Inc. and Providence Equity Partners, expressed interest in buying AMC Networks, according to people familiar with the matter. Top managers at AMC Networks thought they should make a deal, or at least consider it seriously. The company’s cable networks, famous for shows like The Walking Dead, Mad Men and Breaking Bad, were losing subscribers and profits were falling.
Dolan decided not to explore a sale, said the people, who requested anonymity while discussing private negotiations. At the time, the company’s shares were trading at around $40. In recent months, the rate of customers canceling their cable subscriptions has accelerated and the TV advertising market has weakened. Shares of AMC Networks are now trading around $18, down by more than half from just two years ago.
“They might be in one of the most precarious spots as you look across the landscape,” said Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Geetha Ranganathan. “With the amount of exposure they have to the linear TV model and their smaller footprint in streaming, they’re under tremendous pressure.”
Representatives for AMC Networks, Providence and Apollo declined to comment. Bloomnberg