(from the September 15th edition of The Ankler)
Not to get all judgmental, but is Amazon drunk? Like, majorly drunk?
Two years ago, jaws dropped across town when the toilet paper seller/movie studio produced this headline:
Amazon recently paid $160 million for two seasons of a drama from David O. Russell starring Robert De Niro and another $75 million for an anthology from Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner. It also is said to be millions of dollars over budget on season two of Goliath after the drama’s second showrunner, Clyde Phillips, exited amid clashes with star Billy Bob Thornton.
Sources say Price and lieutenant Joe Lewis doled out $80 million to lure Woody Allen to TV for Crisis in Six Scenes. One insider describes the six-episode comedy created by and starring Allen as a “$100 million boondoggle.”
I’m a little worried that if we mock them too much over this they might hand Woody the keys to Jeff Bezos’ house and yacht.
Is it time to wonder what exactly Roy Price is still doing in that job? It’s wonderful he made Transparent, Catastrophe, Fleabag…all excellent shows, but was creating a high end IFC what Bezos had him in mind when he handed over a check for for a mid-single-digit number of billions?
However, they are doing valuable research in providing a counter-example to the At Bats theory. By normal gravitational laws of entertainment, the more At Bats you get, the more hits you should produce. But it’s a fascinating scientific experiment to see what happens if you get unlimited At Bats and generate zero hits. Despite having data! Access to the one biggest treasure chests of of data on earth. I mean, honestly, if you know what brand of toilet bowl cleaner people use and what they sent their grandmother for their birthday, cobbling together exactly the show they want to see is just connecting the dots, right?
Veteran Amazon watcher/Ankler friend Mel Miller sent these thoughts:
Note that Amazon is not Google or Facebook when it comes to becoming its employees’ substitute mommy—feeding it elaborate meals, catering to their every whim, etc. The stories of Amazon’s work culture have become infamous. Since that NYT feature a couple of years ago they have tried to make it a bit more friendly, but this is still not the sort of perk fest that signals a willingness to spend freely. What did Grand Tour reportedly cost? $250 million? That may have been worth it because it did have global appeal and reportedly drove a lot of Amazon Prime membership sign ups. But is every project at Amazon this flush with cash? If so, I am starting to see the problem and why Bezos ordered up his GoT. At least global epics can justify this level of spending.
Again, to use the inevitable Netflix analogy, at least their spending like it’s always Friday night and they just got paid has directly driven subscriptions and lifted their stock price. May not do so forever, and debt financing may not always be this cheap, but they have a lot to show for it. Amazon makes Netflix look like a paragon of transparency. Netflix reports subscriber numbers. No one actually knows how many Prime members there are, much less how many watch Video. We know it’s some. We know companies like HBO are finding new subscriptions through Amazon. But we don’t really know how many are watching old CBS shows for free and treating Amazon as their VOD platform to rent movies versus watching Patriot (which was pretty decent).
Compare Netflix’s retrenchment from expensive failures like The Get Down and Sense8 to Amazon. Netflix did a good job framing it, praising its creators but being clear that it wanted to keep taking risks on new shows and it needed to push itself to keep innovating. Meanwhile Amazon has a drip-drip-drip of bad news coming out and that pivot to ruining TV the way the chase for blockbusters ruined movies is the story?
Final point: Amazon is mostly a retailer = low-margin business! Facebook and Google sit on gushers of profit because their ad businesses are extremely high margin. Apple is a high-margin business selling premium hardware and it generates a ton of profit. It’s sitting on a quarter of a trillion dollars! No one wants to throw money in a sinkhole but of all the tech giants, Amazon is the least equipped to absorb a long, expensive cold streak.
Of course there’s nothing wrong with Amazon streaming that coming up with the new Game of Thrones can’t fix. Note to future moguls trying your hand at show biz: if you want your people to bring you the most popular and celebrated show of our times, you have to ask for that. Don’t just assume they know that’s what you want. And think of all those showrunners out there, sitting around their houses with the next Game of Thrones pitches taking up space on their coffee table, because they had no clue Amazon wanted to make huge hits. We’re not psychics here Mr. Bezos!
ALSO IN THE SEPT 15 EDITION:
NERDQUAKE: LAST STAND AT THE ALAMO DRAFTHOUSE
NERDQUAKE 2: IN THE SEATS AT THE NEW BEVERLY
WHAT JOHN CLEESE WANTS ON HIS HEADSTONE
ALL THE MARVELS: A DEFENDER SPEAKS
THE GREATEST THREAT WE FACE TO THE SURVIVAL OF THE SPECIES
KUDOS CRASHER: THE FIRST EMMYS OF THE REST OF YOUR LIFE
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