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Brand Expansion: Amazon Studios

As if they weren’t taking the goods industry by storm Amazon Studios has announced that it will be producing original movies for release in theaters and distribution through Amazons Prime Instant Video this year.

Ted Hope, a critically acclaimed producer, will be the one leading the creative development team for Amazon Original Movies. He has been vocal about the need for changing the way independent films are produced and distributed.

Even though they have not expressed any specific projects Amazon expects to produce around 12 movies a year, all indie-style projects with budgets ranging from $5 million to $25 million. As an added benefit to being a prime member Amazon has said it will premiere its original movies on Prime Instant Video just four to eight weeks after its theatrical debut instead of the normal premiere time that can take almost a year.

Amazon’s big move to the production industry comes after Netflix announced its bid to enter the movie industry with plans to debut the sequel to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and work with Adam Sandler on a four-movie deal. According to Amazon Studios Vice President Roy Price, “Not only will we bring Prime Instant Video customers exciting, unique, and exclusive films soon after their theatrical run, but we hope this program will also benefit filmmakers, who too often struggle to mount fresh and daring stories that deserve an audience.”

One of the main problems that Amazon’s production team is encountering is trying to convince theater chains that Amazon’s four to eight week theatrical release window is long enough for them to show the films. Many movie theaters are balking at the early digital releases that come with Amazon produced movies with many major chains saying they would prefer to have a minimum window of 90 days in the cinema in order to maximize ticket sales.

The Start of Amazon Studios

Like Netflix, Amazon Studios began its venture into production by focusing on a few original TV series.

Their dark comedy “Transparent”, from Jill Soloway, won a Golden Globe for best TV musical and comedy series with its star, Jeffrey Tambor, taking home the award for best actor in a TV comedy.

Over the past year, Amazon has acquired amazing filmmakers like Woody Allen, Steven Soderbergh, David Gordon Green, Marc Forster, and Whit Stillman.

Hope’s title is head of production and his goal is “To help carry the torch into the feature film world for such an innovative company…Amazon Original Movies will be synonymous with films that amaze, excite, and move our fans, wherever customers watch.”

This announcement marks a new venture into the movie business for the online giant who developed many TV series since the launch of Amazon Studies in 2010.

This announcement also comes at a time when many production companies are encountering major distribution issues. For example, the Sony Pictures’ movie “The Interview” was the first major studio film to be released simultaneously in theaters, online and on many video-on-demand platforms. Many North American theater chains have vehemently protested moves like these.

With its entry into the TV series industry being a success Amazon Studios is now aiming for bigger screens. The Seattle-based company announced that it will produce and purchase original movies for both theatrical release and early-window distribution on its Amazon Prime Instant Video subscription service.

Amazon Studios since its launch has become known for its original TV series like Tumble Leaf, Mozart in the Jungle, Alpha House and more. Amazon recently announced a deal with director Woody Allen to create an original television while leaving indie-film expert Ted Hope to run movie production.

Without Amazon Studios many movies wouldn’t even get made, let alone wind up in theaters. If the name Hope sounds familiar, it should. He is a highly experienced, well-known producer with deep ties to the independent film world. Having produced dozens of movies, most through his co-founded Good Machine production company. He has worked with the likes of Edward Burns, Todd Solondz, Ang Lee and more making him the perfect man for the job.

Amazon made history by being the first streaming service to have a series with a Golden Globe as a whole. A feat that not even Netflix has been able to pull off despite the large number of quality shows they’ve released that have received more critical acclaim and media attention than Amazon’s releases.

Currently Amazon Prime Instant Video is only available in the United States, so any films that are produced or purchased by Amazon would have to be sold off in any foreign areas.

One interesting thing to be on the lookout for is whether or not Amazon acquires movies using the same audience-focused method they use to select television series. The company allows its viewers to watch, rate and review pilots in order to get feedback on the ones that show the most promise. While this approach can’t really work in regards to film production it could yield some pretty unique results when applied properly in the future.

With products like the Kindle, the Fire TV set-top box, and the newly innovative Fire Phone Amazon’s originally developed products have been a bit lackluster. Originally scoffed at by those who believed providing online solutions for things outside of e-commerce and retail Amazon has grown into a multibillion dollar business.

One thing that may raise a few questions is the fact that Netflix is both a customer of Amazon through their web services and a competitor through both of their streaming media services. That is a pretty thin line to straddle especially since they both earn significant revenue through the online sale of DVDs and digital downloads. While this is a concerning issue Amazon doesn’t really have to worry about that, mainly due to its size. Many Hollywood studios and film distributors use Amazon as one of their core retail outlets.

Taking a step into the challenging realm of independent movies, Amazon has moved past simply distributing digital entertainment content to creating it themselves. Although its profits have taken a hit recently Amazon hopes to have a great return on their investments especially since they have already done some pretty hefty spending.

This move shows Amazon’s growing ambitions in digital media even though many major Hollywood studios like Paramount and Warner Brothers have bowed out of the business of producing indie films. Many referencing the difficulty of getting quality content and the competition of trying to get into festivals like Sundance.

Right now it is still unclear whether or not Amazon can make money on its own with its studio ventures, but its other ventures have been aimed at boosting Amazons retail business.

In 2014 Amazon spent an estimated $2 billion on content. Around $200 million of that was used to develop original shows that have gone on to be nominated and win Golden Globe Awards.  The next step is Oscar nominations, which only movies that are released in theaters are eligible for.

Although Hope is known for making independent movies instead of big budget Hollywood movies by teaming up with highly experienced directors like Allen and Steven Soderbergh Amazon should have no problem producing amazing original movies.

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About Sean Donahoe

Sean is one of the most recognized industry leaders in business and marketing. As a popular speaker, author, consultant he has helped over 50,000 students world wide find success in their businesses and has consulted with Fortune 500 companies and businesses of every size grow and thrive...

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