Amazon Upped 2020 Content Spend 41% to $11 Billion

Among streamers such as Netflix, Disney+, HBO Max, Hulu and Peacock, Amazon Prime Video remains relatively under the radar when it comes to publicized content spending.

So when founder/CEO Jeff Bezos released his final shareholder letter April 15, the world’s richest man threw out a lot of big numbers befitting a company tagged on Wall Street as No. 1 in market valuation. Not to be overlooked in the data dump: $11 billion in content spend on movies, TV shows and music in 2020. That’s up 41% from $7.8 billion in combined content spending in 2019.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Netflix spent $11.8 billion on content in 2020, which was actually down almost 15% from $13.9 billion spent in 2019.

Amazon in recent years reduced content production as it focused monies on high-profile license agreements such as “NFL Thursday Night Football,” according to analyst Michael Pachter with Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles. He says Amazon is positioning to resume releasing original content at a steadier clip, as it had in the past. Amazon Studios recently installed a new, more comprehensive TV development team in place.

“We view [the move] as a way [for Amazon] to remain relevant in the face of heightened competition from various other streamers,” Pachter wrote in a note.

Separately, Bezos said the e-commerce pioneer created $126 billion in “value creation” economic benefit to consumers in 2020. He said most Amazon consumers complete 28% of their online purchases in three minutes or less, and half of all purchases are finished in less than 15 minutes.

When compared to the typical shopping trip to a physical store — driving,
parking, searching store aisles, waiting in the checkout line, finding your car, and driving home. Bezos said research suggests the typical physical store trip takes about an hour.

“If you assume that a typical Amazon purchase takes 15 minutes and that it saves you a couple of trips to a physical store a week, that’s more than 75
hours a year saved,” Bezos wrote.

Indeed, when valuing the time saved shopping through e-commerce at $10 per hour, Bezos estimates the average Amazon Prime member created $630 in annual “value creation” for themselves. A tally that skyrockets to $126 billion when multiplied by 200 million Prime members.

“That’s important,” wrote Bezos.

Paramount’s Eddie Murphy Sequel ‘Coming 2 America’ Going to Amazon Prime Video

Chalk up another loss for the theatrical market. Paramount Pictures has reportedly licensed rights to the Eddie Murphy sequel Coming 2 America to Amazon Prime Video for $125 million. The movie, co-starring original headliners Murphy and Arsenio Hall, is slated to bow on Prime Dec. 18 — the same date as the original theatrical launch, according to Deadline, which first reported the move.

Co-stars in the sequel, in which Akeem (Murphy) learns he has a long-lost son in the United States and must return to meet the unlikely heir to the throne of Zamunda, include Tracy Morgan, Wesley Snipes, Leslie Jones and Jay Pharaoh.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Amazon had been relatively quiet on content spending in 2020 compared with rivals Netflix, Disney+, HBO Max and Apple — reportedly slated to spend $6 million on original content this year before the coronavirus hit.

Now the deal represents another high-profile theatrical steal for Amazon Studios under the direction of Jennifer Salke, following deals for Sasha Baron Cohen’s second Borat flick, and Dave Bautista’s My Spy.

The 1988 original Coming to America was a blockbuster for Paramount, generating $128 million at domestic screens and $288 million worldwide — just behind Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Rain Man.

The transaction leaves just four high-profile studio movies still on the theatrical calendar in 2020, including Open Road’s Honest Thief on Oct. 16; 20th Century’s Free Guy starring Ryan Reynolds on Dec. 11; Death on the Nile with Kenneth Branagh reprising Agatha Christie’s Belgian sleuth detective Hercules Poirot on Dec. 18; and Warner Bros.’ Wonder Woman 1984 on Christmas.

Studios have repeatedly pushed back big-budget releases to 2021 as theaters grapple with pandemic closures and limited seating at screens that are open. With Warner’s espionage thriller Tenet failing to bring consumers in the U.S. back to the cineplex, the domestic box office is trending nearly 80% below 2019 levels.

Amazon Prime Video Launching ‘Blumhouse’ Horror Channel

Amazon Prime Video in October will bow a special streaming channel devoted to horror movies produced by by Jason Blum’s Blumhouse Television and Amazon Studios. Dubbed “Welcome to the Blumhouse,” the channel will feature on Prime Video worldwide.

Blumhouse is a prolific producer of commercially successful lower-budget horror/dramas, which include Fantasy Island, Halloween (2018), Happy Death Day 2U, Ma, Black Christmas, Don’t Let Go, Prey, Happy Death Day and Hunt, among others.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Amazon on Oct. 6 will launch an initial slate of four films, including The Lie directed by writer/director Veena Sud (The Killing, 7 Seconds) and Black Box directed by writer/director Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour Jr. (Born with It). On Oct. 13, the channel will stream Evil Eye, from directors Elan Dassani and Rajeev Dassani (A Day’s Work, Jinn) and executive produced by Priyanka Chopra Jonas (Quantico, White Tiger), and Nocturne, written and directed by filmmaker Zu Quirke (ZugzwangGhosting).

Follow us on Instagram

“This collection from diverse and emerging filmmakers was a thrill to put together with our wonderful partners at Blumhouse Television,” Julie Rapaport, co-head of movies for Amazon Studios, said in a statement. “These stories have something for everyone — ready to fright and delight genre fans and newcomers alike — and we are excited to share them with our global Prime Video customers.”

Amazon CFO: Studio Investment Slowed Due to COVID-19

Despite outsized revenue in its most-recent fiscal quarter, Amazon July 30 disclosed it has slowed investment in studio productions largely due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The studio spent about $6 billion on original content in 2019, a figure it was expected to expand in 2020 before the pandemic, while not matching Netflix’s reported $17 billion+ content budget.

Speaking on the fiscal call, CFO Brian Brian Olsavsky said spending reductions at Amazon Studios have not been done for cost savings, but rather for “people reasons.”

Olsavsky said Amazon Studios, like most studios, has delayed productions of original TV shows and movies due to COVID-19, a reality that prompted rollout of Amazon Cinema, which offered Prime members access to new-release movies at premium VOD pricing.

“In this time when people want entertainment, people are having trouble creating new content across the board, which is a bit of a challenge,” he said. “It’s not something we’re doing intentionally. It’s something we’re doing to protect the actors and film crews. We think that is the right decision.”

Olsavsky, without giving specifics, said some things have changed in the “entertainment area” due to the pandemic and that Amazon Studios is adapting to changes in consumer access and acquisition of home entertainment.

“[Home] entertainment is seeing usage growth [due to the pandemic],” he said. “It’s a bifurcated world out there.”

Amazon Acquires Rights to Voting Rights Doc Co-Produced by Stacey Abrams

Amazon Studios has acquired worldwide rights to an untitled voting rights documentary from production company Story Syndicate.

The documentary, which prominently features insights from politician, lawyer and author Stacey Abrams, is directed by Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning filmmaker Liz Garbus and Oscar-nominated filmmaker Lisa Cortés. Currently in post-production, the film is produced by Garbus, Cortés, Academy Award-winning producer Dan Cogan and Abrams.

The documentary is slated for release on Amazon Prime Video this year with a theatrical run prior.

The documentary examines the issue of voter suppression in the United States in anticipation of the 2020 presidential election. The film interweaves personal experiences with current activism and historical insight to expose a problem that has challenged our democracy from the very beginning. With the perspective and expertise of Abrams, the former Minority Leader of the Georgia House of Representatives, the documentary will offer an insider’s look into laws and barriers to voting.

“We are honored to be working with brilliant filmmakers Liz Garbus and Lisa Cortés and the remarkable Stacey Abrams on this timely and important documentary,” said Jennifer Salke, head of Amazon Studios, in a statement. “In this critical election year, Stacey’s expertise and fearless stance against voter suppression will resonate strongly with audiences everywhere and can inspire positive change in supporting all Americans’ right to cast their vote.”

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

“Working with Stacey Abrams is the honor of a lifetime,” Garbus and Cortés said in a statement. “The story of voting rights is not just one of the Civil Rights Movement and the 1960s. It’s a story for right now. It’s a monster movie where you think you’ve mortally wounded the beast, but it keeps rearing its ugly head, as last week’s primary in Georgia so painfully demonstrated. And nothing less than democracy is at stake.”

Follow us on Instagram

“Raising the alarm about voter suppression is critical to the integrity of our democracy,” Abrams said in a statement. “The failure of state leaders in Georgia and other states across the country to protect the rights of voters, as seen in the 2018 election and 2020 primaries, must be exposed and it must be stopped. Justice in our criminal justice system and the sacred right to vote are not equal for all Americans and we must find a way to change these systematic inequalities. As the 2020 election approaches, this documentary will help voters realize the power of their voices, and it will inspire them to overcome the obstacles of voter suppression.”

Amazon Co-Head of Movies Ted Hope Returning to Production

Ted Hope, co-head of movies at Amazon Studios, is reportedly transitioning back into content production after five years with the e-commerce giant. Hope, who began as head of Amazon Original Movies, leaves his position June 2 and will begin a first-look production deal with Amazon Studios, studio boss Jennifer Salke disclosed in a memo to staff.

Ted Hope

“Ted approached me earlier this year and expressed his feelings about taking on a new challenge,” Salke wrote. “Over the course of several months and many conversations I came to realize Ted is a producer through and through and that now is the right time for both him and the studio to make a change.”

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

During his tenure, Hope was responsible for spearheading Amazon’s forays into feature films, including The Big Sick and Oscar winner Manchester By the Sea, among others. He was instrumental in Amazon greenlighting Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq, and Cafe Society and Wonder Wheel from Woody Allen.

More recent theatrical forays included Late Night, Brittany Runs a Marathon, Honey Boy, The Aeronauts and Troop Zero.

Follow us on Instagram

Amazon Studios’ other co-heads, Julia Rapaport and Matt Newman, will assume control of movie production, with senior executive Scott Foundas and Christian Davin, head of marketing, continuing in their positions — and all reporting to Salke.

Amazon Studios Greenlights ‘Jack Reacher’ Series

Amazon Studios has ordered “Jack Reacher,” a series based on the character from Lee Child’s bestselling books.

Produced by Amazon Studios, Skydance Television and Paramount Television Studios, the series will be written and executive produced by Nick Santora.

The first season will be based on the first novel The Killing Floor.

Paramount Pictures previously produced two feature films starring Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher.

“Lee Child has created an incredible character and world; it will be the goal of every writer, producer, actor, executive and crew member to capture the essence of Mr. Child’s books — and luckily Lee has been there, and will continue to be there, to help guide us along the way in this series. He is the pulse of Reacher,” said Santora in a statement.

“It’s been great so far, but really, the fun starts here. By now I know these guys, and Reacher is in the perfect hands, believe me,” said Child in a statement.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

“Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books series is a global phenomenon with one of entertainment’s most well-known heroes, and a perfect fit for Amazon Studios’ slate of bold, character-driven series,” said Jennifer Salke, head of Amazon Studios, in a statemtn. “We look forward to expanding the of the Jack Reacher universe and bringing more thrilling action to our Amazon Prime Video audience.”

In addition to Santora, the series will be executive produced by Child, Don Granger, Scott Sullivan and Christopher McQuarrie, with David Ellison, Dana Goldberg and Marcy Ross executive producing for Skydance. Carolyn Harris oversees the series for Skydance.

Amazon Greenlights Nick Jonas, Pryanka Chopra Reality Wedding Series

Amazon Studios has greenlighted an untitled reality series from Nick Jonas and Pryanka Chopra, based in part on their 2018 wedding in India. The series will focus on the sangeet, a pre-wedding tradition in India.

According to a press release, Jonas, who will replace Gwen Stefani on the next season of “The Voice,” and Chopra are casting couples planning to have a sangeet in their wedding.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

“We want to share this amazing experience with couples set to be wed,” Chopra wrote in a tweet. “So … if you’re engaged to be married in the spring or summer next year (2020), we want to be part of the celebration and help you make it even more spectacular … Visit the link in bio, and we’ll have you dancing before you walk down the aisle!”

Follow us on Instagram

Casting for the series is currently underway and filming will take place in 2020 with participants driving the creative vision for their respective ceremonies. The series is produced by Amazon Studios, Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz’s Alfred Street Industries, Chopra Jonas’ Purple Pebble Pictures and Jonas’ Image 32.

“The sangeet is such a beautiful tradition and we’re excited to partner with Priyanka and Nick to honor it through this series and find couples from all different backgrounds that are excited to bring their families together through the universal language of song and dance,” Jennifer Salke, head of Amazon Studios, said in a statement.

Studio Wars: Comcast’s Sky Building New U.K. Production Facility

In the burgeoning over-the-top video streaming world, original content production has become a prerequisite to lure consumers. And the physical space to create movies and TV shows in the United Kingdom is now a new cottage industry.

Comcast-owned satellite TV operator Sky has announced plans to build a Hollywood-style studio on 32 acres north of London it claims would employ 2,000 people and help it better compete against Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+.

Dubbed Sky Studios Elstree, the facility would emerge as the European production base for Sky Studios and NBC Universal — corporate parent to Universal Pictures.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

“This was an opportunity to build something brand new, state of the art and at scale,” Gary Davey, CEO of Sky Studios, said in a statement. “It is a big enough site to attract very high-end production in both TV and film from all over the world. We are going to fill this thing with projects of all kinds. It means a huge number of new jobs and new investment.”

Sky Studios has created several hits, including miniseries “Chernobyl” and “Patrick Melrose” for HBO, and the pending “The Third Day,” a six-part drama starring Jude Law co-produced by the WarnerMedia subsidiary.

Follow us on Instagram

Sky has said it plans to double spending on original content, reaching £1 billion ($1.3 billion) annually over the next five years.

Netflix earlier this year inked a long-term lease with Shepperton Studios to better produce original content across the studios’ 14 sound stages.

Disney then upped the ante, announcing it would lease legendary Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire, U.K. — production home to many James Bond movies.

“It’s wonderful to have Disney here at Pinewood. They’ve been making great films with us for many years and the fact they want to shoot so many more here is testimony not only to the quality of the teams and infrastructure at Pinewood, but also to the British film industry as a whole,” the studio said in a statement.

 

HBO Streaming Aspiring Directorial Pilots

Taking an earlier page from Amazon Studios, HBO has begun streaming directorial shorts from aspiring directors on its SVOD platform HBO Now and TVOD service HBO Go.

HBO Access Directing Fellowship selects three-to-four fellows to participate in a biennial program designed to foster diverse directing talent. The program includes a series of master classes, which lead into the production of pilots.

Delivered by industry professionals both internal and external to HBO, the classes cover a variety of subjects including creative topics such as story and character, as well as the technical aspects of production and post.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Upon completion of the course, the fellows are given a budget and crew to direct a short presentation allowing them full immersion in a true industry production.

HBO said it would continue to support the directors by screening the films for the entertainment community and offering shadowing opportunities on HBO series.

Pilots include:

HALFWAY | Run Time: 16:21
Written & Created by Katherine Craft
Directed by Carey Williams

Recently released from prison, Krystal must navigate the new rules and strong personalities of her local Christian halfway house if she has any hope of regaining custody of her estranged daughter.

 

 

UNIMUNDO 45 | Run Time: 13:38
Written & Created by Claudia Forestieri
Directed by Thembi Banks

When her parents threaten to self-deport, a jaded Latina news producer sheds her cynicism and becomes an activist — on live TV.

 

 

 

 

 

 

STERLING | Run Time: 20:12
Written & Created by Bryce Ahart & Stephanie McFarlane
Directed by Ryan Zaragoza

A small West Texas town struggles to pick up the pieces after a devastating mass shooting at their local high school.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Director bios:

Carey Williams — Recently hailed by Filmmaker Magazine as one of the 25 New Faces of Independent Film, Williams is currently in pre-production on his first feature, R#J, with Timur Bekmambetov, a participant in the NBC Emerging Directors Program and has set up the feature version of his award-winning short film, “Emergency.”

Thembi Banks — Born in Harlem New York, Banks is an award-winning writer/director who received her MFA from USC’s Film & TV Production program. Banks was a 2017 directing fellow at Film Independent’s Project Involve, she was also a 2018 HBO Access Directing Fellow, a 2019 Ryan Murphy Half Initiative Directing Fellow and a participant in Powder Keg’s inaugural female directing program, created by Paul Feig.

She will be making her feature film directorial debut with Young. Wild. Free written by Juel Taylor in 2020 and is currently writing a feature for Universal Studios with Malcolm D. Lee attached to produce and direct. Her most recent television directing credit is on Issa Rae’s show “Insecure.”

Ryan Zaragoza — Zaragoza is a writer/director originally from El Paso, Texas. He’s an alumni of Ryan Murphy’s HALF Initiative, WBTV Director’s Program, and HBO Access, where he directed Sterling, which premiered at SXSW. Zaragoza is currently directing an episode of “All American” season 2, and is slated to direct an episode of “Animal Kingdom” in early 2020.

Writer bios:

Claudia Forestieri is a bilingual, biracial TV writer of Dominican-Italian descent who was born in Puerto Rico and raised in Miami. Her storytelling career began in the world of news where she served as a reporter and producer for Telemundo stations in Miami, San Francisco, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

She broke into TV writing in 2017 and has since staffed on Freeform’s “Good Trouble” and Netflix’s “Selena: The Series.”

Katherine Craft is a playwright, screenwriter, and Texas native. She’s the creator of “Kappa Crypto,” a Snap Original series, currently streaming on Snapchat. She’s also the founder of Conspire Theatre, a prison theater program that worked with women during and post-incarceration. Her short films have played in the Tribeca Film Festival, PBS Online Film Festival, and the LA Asian Pacific American Film Festival, among others.

Bryce Ahart and Stephanie McFarlane are both alums of NYU Tisch School of the Arts, where they each graduated Cum Laude from the Dramatic Writing Department. After completing the 2017–2018 HBO Access Writer’s Fellowship, they went on to staff on The CW’s “Legacies.” Most recently, their pilot, “Sterling,” premiered at SXSW and is currently continuing the festival circuit.