Remember, like just last week, when I was talking about DiscoverWarner and Netflix and how the whole Streaming Wars thing had been turned on its head? Well, apparently, we’re into Part Deux of this saga, with the news the other day that Amazon was acquiring MGM for the low, low price of $8.45 billion.
“But Neil,” you find yourself asking, “what does this have to do with me?” Turns out, a few things. For starters, if you have Amazon Prime, very soon you’re going to be able to stream each and every one of the two dozen James Bond movies on your own personal device, as well as each and every episode of Cagney & Lacey, and if you think that’s not a big deal, you have clearly forgotten the delight that is the acting team of Emmy winners Tyne Daly and Sharon Gless.
Okay, maybe that’s not enough to gun your engine (the Bond thing certainly is for mine), so maybe this will do it: MGM’s library contains over 4,000 movies and more than 17,000 hours of television. Aside from the Bond series, the film library includes such titles as 12 Angry Men, Basic Instinct, Creed, Legally Blonde, Moonstruck, Poltergeist, Raging Bull, Robocop, Rocky, Silence of the Lambs, Stargate, Thelma & Louise, Tomb Raider, The Magnificent Seven, The Pink Panther, and The Thomas Crown Affair. The TV titles, meanwhile, include Fargo, The Handmaid’s Tale, Vikings, Will & Grace, and The Twilight Zone. Neither list would fall under the category of “shabby.”
At least a couple of those film titles are ongoing franchises, and a few others are probably ripe for a remake, but that’s not the interesting part of this. Nor is the depth this deal gives to Amazon’s own streaming service, which will now rival pretty much any other in the sheer number of titles available to subscribers.
No, the interesting part is what this does for Amazon Studios and, specifically, Jeff Bezos as a content facilitator.
Amazon has been trying to keep up with Netflix for years now, and has largely failed. Sure, it has come up with a few good shows, has won Emmys with entries like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Fleabag (the latter being one of the single greatest creations the medium has ever produced), and has given us some good movies, including Oscar winners Sound of Metal and Manchester by the Sea (the first streaming movie, incidentally, to ever win an Academy Award). No one can accurately claim that Amazon does not produce some quality entertainment, because to do so would be asinine.
The issue is in the quantity. Netflix offers as much chaff as wheat — more, actually — but there’s so much of it, an audience can get lost in the service and not come up for days, doing nothing but sampling the service’s original fare. Likewise, the good stuff stands out so much that it tends to get the most attention, more, in fact, than that of other services.
Amazon, however, doesn’t give audiences nearly as much in the way of new offerings, which is only odd because, unlike Netflix, Amazon seems to have a bottomless pit of money, and no debt to speak of. On the contrary, Amazon Prime is a loss leader for the company as a whole. It’s not from the entertainment division, after all, that Bezos became one of the two or three richest men on the planet. It’s from selling books, which turned into selling vacuum cleaners and televisions and shoes and groceries and lawnmowers and backyard grills and about a trillion other things.
The entertainment division exists because Bezos saw that more than free shipping was needed to get people to spend north of $120 per year for Prime. He saw what he needed was to offer original entertainment in a streaming service. That, and he decided that he wanted to win some awards, like maybe an Oscar or an Emmy, even though he’s not that kind of creative.
But it’s tough to win Oscars and Emmys if you’re not prolific in your production of content. Netflix gives us a new movie every week, at least, and either a new show or a new season of an existing show just about as often. And while it’s true that none of the other streamers produce nearly that much new material for viewers to consume, I have two responses to that. The first is that each of the major ones are working to at least try to catch up. Disney+, Hulu, Peacock, all of them are generating shows and movies that will get people’s eyes — and, more importantly, their dollars — on their service. It’s one of the major reasons why DiscoverWarner is even happening in the first place.
The second response is a bit more subtle, but has everything to do with the thing I wrote two paragraphs ago:
Jeff Bezos isn’t interested in competing with Disney+ and Hulu and Apple TV+ and Peacock and HBO Max. He’s interested in competing with … check that. He wants to beat Netflix. It probably drives him crazy that Amazon Prime is considered a poor substitute, and that while he has untold billions of dollars at his disposal, Netflix keeps digging a deeper and deeper pit of debt that it would seem to have no way out of, and yet it keeps trouncing him over and over again. Not just in awards and prestige, but in viewership.
Which brings us back to the importance of this MGM deal. MGM, you see, actually creates movies and TV shows. Its sole purpose, in fact, is to create movies and TV shows. Even in recent years, when the money was tighter and the assembly line not as prodigious, it has created movies and TV shows. Which is precisely the kind of help that Amazon needs to get itself back in the game.
Also, even in its diminished state, MGM still provides glitz and name recognition that only adds to the package. By overspending for MGM — and there is no question at all that Amazon did so, and wildly, at that — Amazon brings a large content weapon under its considerable umbrella, and adds some nitro to its fuel tank.
It also suggests that this is not the last of these deals that Amazon will be making. There aren’t a lot of other film and TV libraries up for sale, but there are production shingles and entities that do, in fact, turn out content. There are also individual creators. You know, the ones who actually create the shows. Amazon gave Phoebe Waller-Bridge a lucrative deal to create shows for them in September of 2019, and while it hasn’t yet led to any Fleabag followups, Waller-Bridge is a genius who will undoubtedly produce something else of the highest quality. The deal is in the vein of the one Netflix made with the likes of Shonda Rhimes, Ryan Murphy, and the Game of Thrones team of David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, which have not yet produced a ton of new series, and seem more than a tad fiscally irresponsible, but they do add to the Netflix mythos.
It’s a mythos Amazon wants to take for its own. This MGM deal is just the first step in what is definitely the right direction.
Neil Turitz is a journalist, essayist, author, and filmmaker who has worked in and written about Hollywood for nearly 25 years, though he has never lived there. These days, he splits his time between New York City and the Berkshires. He’s not on Twitter, but you can find him on Instagram @6wordreviews.
You can read a new installation of The Accidental Turitz every Wednesday.