Amazon Studios becomes first streaming service to win Oscar

(Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos at Oscars with Actors Matt Damon and Simon Helberg from Big Bang Theory) (Credit: Geekwire)

Amazon Studios develops TV shows and distributes and produces films from online submissions and crowd-sourced feedback. It markets itself as an open platform, where anybody with an idea can submit their script to Amazon.

Here is what they say on their website:

We have an open door for creators.
There are a lot of great ideas in Hollywood, but not everyone can be there or get their work into the right hands. Amazon Studios is open to ideas from around the world. We are proud to have recognized talented writers and filmmakers in the US, Canada, the UK, China, Zimbabwe, the Dominican Republic and other countries. Great ideas are out there.
We invite the audience in early.
Amazon Studios seeks feedback about projects and ideas, even in their earliest stages. And to reach the most people, we try to shape stories into a form that is short, or visual, or both. We will test premises, storyboards, posters, videos, test movies, pilots, promos, and other formats to see what people think. Scripts are critically important in development, but they are just not accessible to most audiences.

In other words, Amazon has been trying to produce content based on aggregated user feedback, flipping the traditional development process on its head such that projects funnel from a user base back to decision makers (rather than the other way around). While this is true, much of its green-lit content thus far has come from reputable media companies.

Amazon’s big wins: Manchester by the Sea and the Salesman

After Manchester by the Sea premiered in January 2016 at the Sundance Film Festival, Amazon Studios ponied up $10M for U.S. distribution rights, beating out all the traditional studios. This turned out to be a nice bet as the film has grossed over $60M globally.

The movie received six Oscar nods, winning two for Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor. This meant Amazon became the first streaming service to take home an Oscar.

Amazon also won Best Foreign Language Film for the Salesman, an Iranian drama. Its director, Asghar Farhadi did not attend the awards out of protest against President Trump’s immigration executive order.

What’s next for Amazon Studios?

Amazon Studios’ next big speculative production is The Wall, a psychological thriller following two soldiers pinned down by an Iraqi sniper. It is scheduled to be released in May 2017 and starts former professional wrestler John Cena.

Amazon also has three TV series in the works with stars including Jean Claude Van Damme and Kevin Bacon.

Amazon Instant Video

Aggressively Buying Content: Content is King and Amazon has been producing its own original content (series such as Man in the High Castle, Transparent, and Sneaky Pete) have been praised by critics. It has also been agressively buying content from traditional cable providers, who recognize the shrinking window for content monetization. For instance, it negotiated deals with Scripps (Iron Chef, Chopped, House Hunters), CBS (Amazing Race, Undercover Boss, The Good Wife), A&E (Pawn Stars), and Time Warner (The Closer).

Leveraging the Cloud for Ubiquitous Access: Amazon launched it Unbox digital service backed in 2006 and followed up with Amazon V-O-D in 2008 (now called Amazon Instant Video). People forget that Amazon was the first to pioneer cloud-based delivery, which ended up disrupting the DVD market in many developed markets. Amazon allows its content to be available to users through its web browser, Kindle devices, internet-connected TVs, and set-top-boxes compatible with Amazon Instant Video.

Just as Amazon undercut traditional brick-and-mortar retailers on price, it is similarly doing so in its monetization of creative content. And it is doing so in the same way: focusing on delivering value directly to the consumer, without regard for traditional business models. Now it is winning Emmys and Oscars, which only serves to add to its credibility as a way for storytellers to tell their stories.

Credit: The Business of Media Distribution: Monetizing Film, TV and Video Content in an Online World, Jeff Ulin