A couple weeks ago, a few outlets caused quite a stir among “Better Call Saul” fans with the claim that Netflix would be streaming episodes of brand-new Season 2 (which began Monday night) the day after they aired on AMC. The cord-cutters were saved! But no, like many things that sound too good to be true, this one was: The deal made with Netflix was for the international rights to “Better Call Saul.” Brits and Spaniards and Indonesians can get their “cord-free” Bob Odenkirk on the day after the show airs in America, but not Yanks.
Yet there still appears to be some confusion as to why, exactly, AMC wouldn’t give in to all this pent-up online demand and just allow Netflix to show episodes the day after they air. But it should be clear: Just follow the money.
First, “Better Call Saul” isn’t an AMC production. Like its hit predecessor “Breaking Bad,” the crime drama is produced by Sony Pictures Television, which holds the distribution rights. While it’s theoretically possible for Sony to sell the rights to two American outlets simultaneously, there isn’t a cable channel in existence that would allow that to happen.
Part of the reason for this is that AMC has to recoup its licensing fees for “Better Call Saul” solely through selling advertising during the show; having to deal with an ad-free competitor horning in on its audience would prove a nightmare for AMC's ratings.
The other part is that AMC, like FX, knows the value of being in the traditional pay-TV bundle. By having exclusive first runs for shows like “Better Call Saul,” not to mention "The Walking Dead" and "Fear of the Walking Dead," they can charge cable operators more for carrying this "premium" content. In fact, this is exactly what happened in January, when a host of small cable providers agreed to a significant fee hike for AMC and sister networks SundanceTV and BBC America. Those cable providers just couldn't risk losing that many customers.
When it comes to content it produces, AMC itself has proven relatively agnostic as to where those series go after their on-network runs. They signed a blockbuster deal in April 2015 that gave “Fear the Walking Dead” and other future AMC-produced series to Hulu — after the usual year-or-so wait. (There was a similar outcry after “Dead”-heads realized the Hulu deal didn’t mean episodes would appear the day after air.) The network reaped quite a harvest from people catching up on “Breaking Bad” on Netflix in the show’s final season, helping to make the last episode basic cable’s most-watched series finale.
Last season, “Better Call Saul” averaged 5.9 million viewers, with 3.7 million in the advertiser-coveted 18-49 demographic, a stellar number, particularly on basic cable. It doesn’t quite match “The Walking Dead”; however, that show outdelivers just about every other scripted show on TV in the 18-49 demo.
So while anything is possible, it is extremely unlikely that U.S.-based Netflix users will ever get episodes of currently-airing shows the day after they air. It’s merely about as likely as Jimmy McGill not changing his name to Saul Goodman by the end of a series called “Better Call Saul.”