Is Powerful Amazon About to Overrun the Entertainment Sector? (Bloom)

Amazon's soon-to-be CEO, Andy Jassy
Amazon’s soon-to-be CEO, Andy Jassy (Image credit: Amazon)

Amid all the conversation about what’s happening at The Walt Disney Co. with its old-new CEO, and the continued bloodletting at Warner Bros. Discovery, and now AMC, it’s been easy to overlook other incumbents in the still-evolving video streaming business. 

Perhaps nowhere is this more true than with Amazon, where, like its namesake river, vast currents appear to be shifting the many, many entertainment holdings of the online commerce and cloud giant. Little bits of flotsam pop up here and there to suggest big change beneath a seemingly placid surface, with potential implications for the entire industry. 

First, it’s worth noting what’s already been a pretty impressive (and wildly expensive) 2022. In March, the company closed its $8.45 billion purchase of storied movie and TV studio MGM, at a multiple that raised eyebrows all over Hollywood. That brought into Amazon’s hands thousands of movies, tens of thousands of hours of TV, production teams, a premium cable network, and endless opportunities for remakes, reboots and sequels. 

Also read: Monolithic Declaration of the Week: Parks Ranks Amazon Prime Video No. 1 U.S. SVOD Over Netflix

In September, Amazon Prime Video launched the most-expensive series ever, The Rings of Power. It didn’t quite match the ratings of its obvious competition, HBO’s House of Dragons, but appears well situated for a long run.

A couple of weeks after the Lord of the Rings prequel debuted, Prime Video kicked off its first self-produced season of Thursday Night Football ‘casts, for which it is paying the NFL $1 billion a year. Despite some really crummy matchups that tested a hall of fame broadcaster, Al Michaels, the games are attracting promising ratings and subscriber signups.

And even with the eye-popping spending behind those 2022 projects, CEO Andy Jassy used last week’s New York Times Dealbook Summit to declare that Amazon’s entertainment venture is actually about more than just getting folks to buy things online. 

“I do think over time we have opportunities to make our Prime Video business a standalone business with very attractive economics,” Jassy said. An Amazon Prime Video that actually can pay its own way must be scary for all the competitors financing their streaming transition from their declining broadcast and cable operations.

Jassy’s comments reminded everyone that Amazon has been shifting a lot, and is only getting bigger when it comes to entertainment. Among the changes in recent weeks:

* Key departures are reshaping the company’s executive ranks. Senior VP of Global Media and Entertainment Jeff Blackburn is retiring, for the second time, his oversee-everything entertainment job now divided between Mike Hopkins, who heads Prime Video, Amazon Studios and MGM, and Steve Boom, who heads all the audio, music, games and Twitch businesses. Jennifer Salke adds MGM Studios to her Amazon Studios responsibilities. 

* Also worth noting is the exit of Mark Burnett, perhaps unscripted TV’s most successful creator ever, with durable franchises such as Survivor, The Voice, Shark Tank and The Apprentice, as well as MGM’s biggest scripted hit, The Handmaid’s Tale. For all Burnett’s gifts, he produced few big new shows at MGM (The Bible, but not much else), and clashed repeatedly with other executives. In Burnett’s wake, MGM’s TV side is also reorganizing, with COO Chris Brearton adding an unwieldy, 11-word-long title that puts him in charge of corporate strategy, the renamed Epix (now MGM+), Prime Video Studios, and the MGM Alternative division. As Brearton put it in a staff memo: “I realize we’ve all been through a tremendous amount of change over the last few months.” Perhaps now the group can again start asserting itself.

* Moving into live sports with the NFL deal was certainly big for Amazon Prime. Jassy, a sports fan who is minority owner of the NHL’s Seattle Kraken, called live sports “a unique asset” that Amazon will continue to invest in. For broadcast and cable networks trying to pencil out their huge investments in pricey sports rights, that can’t be a comforting thought.

* In another little-noticed announcement, Amazon said it plans to release 12 to 15 movies a year. That would make Amazon one of the biggest providers to a still-limping theatrical sector at a time when traditional studios are wondering what they can afford to release. Amazon’s involvement in the business could distort the economics of the entire business. 

At the Dealbook conference, Jassy articulated a future where Amazon makes plenty of its own content, but also becomes the fulcrum of distribution for lots of other services through its Channels program.

Jassy rightly suggested that, for all the flexibility and breadth of content and choice that streaming has brought, many audiences miss one really good thing about cable TV: it was a one-stop shop for all your viewing interests. 

“Customers would like to go to a place and find everything they want,” Jassy said. “They don’t want to go to five or six different places.”

His comments caught the attention of attendees at this week’s OTT.X strategy summit, where I moderated two panels of analysts. That consumer concern about having skip around is a real issue, they said. And for the niche channels that make up a significant part of OTT.X’s membership, having a place where customers can easily find and subscribe to their networks is invaluable. 

But one need only look at Amazon’s history to understand there are risks if Amazon ultimately gains that kind of role for big parts of the industry. 

One day, your company may see Amazon slash the rates it pays for your content, as has happened repeatedly with indie providers running their libraries on Amazon. And just maybe, as has happened with all kinds of manufacturers selling their goods on Amazon, it’s not hard to imagine one day your media company might wake up to find Amazon is making its own versions of the same thing, for a lot less.  

Whatever plays out for Amazon over the next couple of years, I suspect Jassy is right about one thing: “I think this time, this next year or two in the economy, is going to test the resolve of a lot of companies.” 

We know Amazon will still be there in 2024 and beyond. The question is, who else will be around, and how will they reach the audiences they need to survive and thrive? ▪️

David Bloom of Words & Deeds Media is a Santa Monica, Calif.-based writer, podcaster, and consultant focused on the transformative collision of technology, media and entertainment. Bloom is a senior contributor to numerous publications, and producer/host of the Bloom in Tech podcast. He has taught digital media at USC School of Cinematic Arts, and guest lectures regularly at numerous other universities. Bloom formerly worked for Variety, Deadline (opens in new tab), Red Herring, and the Los Angeles Daily News, among other publications; was VP of corporate communications at MGM; and was associate dean and chief communications officer at the USC Marshall School of Business. Bloom graduated with honors from the University of Missouri School of Journalism.