AMC Networks CFO Christina Spade took on the role of COO and was promoted to CEO—all in less than two years
Christina Spade, incoming CEO of AMC Networks, says—diplomatically—that her two favorite shows are Better Call Saul and The Walking Dead. But unlike the award-winning dramas on the cable and streaming network she will soon lead, her career trajectory wasn’t scripted.
After less than two years at AMC Networks, Spade will become its CEO on September 9. It will be third role at the company since joining as its executive vice president and CFO in January 2021. In November of that same year, she was promoted to the dual role of chief operating officer and CFO.
As CEO, Spade will succeed Matt Blank, who has been AMC Network’s interim CEO for nearly a year. Patrick O’Connell, previously a senior executive at CBS Corporation and Goldman Sachs, will become EVP and CFO. The company has not yet named a new COO.
Spade is “a proven leader with a long track record driving transformative change in media and entertainment and I am confident she has the expertise and vision to guide AMC Networks to greater success,” AMC Networks chairman James Dolan said in a statement on Aug. 5.
The company is focusing on growth in digital initiatives, its international business, and streaming services. Earlier this month, it reported a 5% drop in second quarter U.S. ad revenue. But streaming performed far better with revenues increasing 20% and streaming subscribers growing 46% to 10.8 million subscribers from 7.4 million in the same quarter a prior year.
I first spoke with Spade in May 2021, during Fortune and Workday’s virtual CFO Collaborative event, when she said AMC Networks was relying more on data to help predict what viewers wanted to watch. In this Q&A, I talk with Spade about what prepared her for the new CEO role, what she expects of the new CFO, and her advice to women aspiring to reach the C-suite.
You have experience as a CFO at AMC Networks, as well as ViacomCBS, CBS Corporation and Showtime Networks. How has this prepared you for the CEO role?
My curious approach to finance prepared me best for CEO. I like to look at the finances of a company to drive value for the long term. It is important to assess where the cash flow investments are being made on a priority basis and understand how they will impact revenue growth over time. If you simply cut costs to meet a number, it will be very tough to create value with that approach on a longer-term basis.
In November, you took on the additional role of COO. Do you think as the role of the CFO evolves it will become more standard for finance chiefs to have enhanced operational involvement at companies?
The most fun part of being the CFO, in my opinion, is understanding how your finance decisions affect operating options and then understanding the art of the possible for top-line growth. Finance and operations go hand in hand. The most successful finance organizations, in my experience, are those that are fully aligned with the organization of the business units within a company. Then, finance becomes a natural extension of the business unit and partners closely to ensure the best-informed decisions are made for the company’s success.
Research points to the effectiveness of a strategic partnership between CEOs and CFOs. What are your expectations for Patrick O’Connell as he steps into the role of EVP and CFO?
Patrick is a proven finance leader and I am honored to have him on our team as the CFO. Initially, it will be important for him to conduct a listening tour and build relationships across the company and with his team. After that, his financial leadership, along with our talented finance team, will enable us to continue to succeed in our pivot to being a consumer-led, premium content streaming leader and realize significant additional value creation. It will also be important for Patrick to be the CFO in his own inimitable way. It’s only been a week and he is already doing that very well.
What will be high on your priority list as CEO?
Our highest priority is continuing to build and evolve a diverse organization of talent that has clarity about our stated growth goals to achieve 25 million subscribers by 2025…or before that. The most effective way to succeed, in my experience, is with a strong, trusting team of diverse individuals, contributing their skills and expertise and feeling comfortable and motivated to bring their “A” game every day. That is what I love about AMC Networks. I always feel motivated every day to bring my “A” game and it comes from the spirit that I feel within the entire AMC Networks team. And, loving the content doesn’t hurt either. The Walking Dead and Better Call Saul are my two favorite shows. It’s very rewarding to run a company wherein you’re also a passionate fan of the Company’s offerings as a consumer. That’s been a plus throughout my whole career in media and entertainment.
When it comes to streaming services, and gaining and maintaining subscribers, the competition is tough. For example, Disney+ recently surpassed Netflix in streaming subscribers. As there have been price increases in some of AMC Networks’ services, do you think that will influence the churn rate, and is this current macroeconomic environment potentially a limiting factor to price increases?
In our experience to date, we’re seeing that the targeted streaming services have strong price resilience with the audiences that we serve. Our goal is to provide the best value proposition that we can to our passionate fan bases. We constantly assess the right balance of price, content offerings, tech investments and marketing investments to optimize our outcomes related to the lifetime subscriber profitability for each of our services—AMC+, Acorn, ALLBLK, Shudder, Sundance Now, IFCFilms Unlimited and HIDIVE.
Having held multiple leadership positions, do you have any advice for women who aspire to reach C-suite?
First, be your authentic self (with integrity and respect for everyone) and always try to explain the “why” of what you are doing or looking to transform, even if it adds 10 minutes to the conversation. Second, seek mentors in your industry that are proven leaders who can help you to further your skillset on all fronts. Third, always ask for personal feedback from those with whom you work as to what you can potentially do to be a better leader from their perspective or how you may be in a position to help them succeed even more. Lastly, lead with the empathy already likely in your heart.
What shows are you watching now?
I’m incredibly excited for the finale episode of Better Call Saul on Aug. 15. I’m enjoying Moonhaven and Dark Winds on AMC+. And, although it’s our competition, I thought the last episode of Severance was one of the best episodes of TV I’ve seen this year. The final episode of Better Call Saul could dethrone that once I see it, though. And I just watched the first episode of AMC’s Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches, which is stellar and premieres in January 2023. By far, I’m the most excited for the final eight episodes of The Walking Dead. I can’t wait to find out what happened to Rick and Michonne – where are they? I very much want Judith to have some peace. The finale on November 20 will be epic.
See you tomorrow.
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