Amazon is thinking big about its future on the small screen, aiming to commission fewer pilots and more sports.
Amazon Studios has set itself apart from the crowd with its pilot-based process, which releases a season of test episodes and uses customer feedback to help decide what gets made. As it scales its operation up, though, spending more money on original content each year, its focuses are shifting away from the baby steps of pilot production and towards the bigger, faster leaps forward with full series.
“[They] sort of slow you down… It’s another 10 months,” said Amazon Studios VP Roy Price, speaking at the Edinburgh TV Festival. “Between sitting at a table saying that’s an amazing idea for a TV show and having a TV show on the air, it’s normally 12-18 months. But with a pilot it’s two years.”
“The reality of the marketplace is it’s competitive and often you just have to go to series, both from a timing point of view and from a competitive point of view.”
Goliath, starring Billy Bob Thornton, was one of its first straight-to-series commissions. The legal drama won a Golden Globe earlier this year. Amazon is still wedded to idea of involving audiences, though.
“We still have customer feedback,” said Price, “but will probably have fewer pilots for sure.”
Along with bigger commitments come bigger deals, with Amazon inking an overall agreement with The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman, akin to the deal it already has in place with talent such as Jill Soloway. (Netflix, meanwhile, has recently signed a similar agreement with Shonda Rhimes.)
“I think that’s inevitable, we’re going down that road,” commented Price. “It’s a great time to be a big writer producer or an agent.”
Amazon’s biggest spend to date has, of course, been The Grand Tour, the Top Gear rival that launched its global expansion – and that’s an indicator of where its ambitions increasingly lie.
The series has done “really well” said Price. “That show has the scale that we’re looking for ideally… I would take four more of those any day.”
TV, added Price, is at a stage where that kind of scope is becoming par for the course, anticipating “bigger world, bigger budgets” throughout the marketplace.
“Game of Thrones to me is to me to television what Jaws was to movies after the 70s and making a certain kind of movie, of Hollywood not being sure what to do,” he explained. “Jaws and Star Wars came out and set an example. I think one thing that’s an example of is thinking out of the box and making it bigger and more cinematic and having bigger budgets.”
“I think everybody wants to have one of the top 10 shows, one of the top five shows,” he continued. “That’s really what matters most. I think [Game of Thrones] set a good example and has really gone above and beyond in terms of delivering a big world with high stakes and everybody gets behind it. I think as people focus on getting in the top five, the top 10, I think some of the constraints will fall away – in terms of cast, who participates and how much you spend – that we’re going to get one of those shows or more than one.”
One of Amazon’s biggest plays to date, meanwhile, is Amazon Channels – a bolt-on platform for customers to add other OTT services to their Amazon Prime monthly payments. It’s a sign that Amazon is thinking even further down the road than Netflix, becoming a provider and distributor of content in an online, cord-cutting age, as well as a pronounced and creator. Unlike Netflix, Amazon is also not shying away from sports: Amazon Channels includes Eurosport as an optional add-on for Prime members, while it has also beaten Sky to buying the rights for ATP tennis.
Big, again, is the key word for the online behemoth.
“People love sports, it’s big, it’s engaging, it really motivates people, so I think that’s a good opportunity,” said Price. It may not be a key part of the Amazon Prime Video strategy, but it’s “definitely an opportunity we’ll explore”.