REFILE-UPDATE 3-Amazon doubles down on entertainment with ‘indie’ movie bet

20 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Amazon dives into film — and you’ll see it soon.

Jeffrey Tambor stars in the Amazon comedy ‘Transparent,’ in which a father reveals to his grown children that he is exploring a transgender lifestyle.(Photo: Amazon) The Seattle-based Amazon took on its streaming competitor when it announced Monday that it will produce and purchase original movies for theatrical release that will arrive a month or two later on its Amazon Prime Instant Video subscription service. “It’s aimed at Netflix — these are the two big guns in streaming right now,” says Jason Del Rey, editor at Re/code.com, who covers Amazon. “Both sides are heavily investing in original programming which they see as differentiators in the years to come, while this is also about increasing the value of Amazon Prime networks.” Amazon Studios vice president Roy Price said in a statement: “We look forward to expanding our production efforts. …Amazon has taken a big step forward into the world of Hollywood, with plans to create 12 feature films a year that will be released first in movie theaters and then, weeks later, streamed to customers online. Our goal is to create close to 12 movies a year with production starting later this year.” Price added that the move will not only be beneficial for Amazon customers, “but we hope this program will also benefit filmmakers, who too often struggle to mount fresh and daring stories that deserve an audience.” The studio, which launched in 2010, has become known for original TV series such as Transparent, Tumble Leaf, Mozart in the Jungle and Alpha House. Amazon original movies will be available for streaming in the United States four to eight weeks after they make their debut in theaters, a significant reduction of the window of 39 to 52 weeks that films normally play in theaters before becoming available for streaming.

Amazon Studios is fresh off the success of series “Transparent” at the Golden Globes, winning best comedy, and its deal with Woody Allen to produce a new streaming series — accomplishments that have drawn comparisons to online giant Netflix. The development is another step in Amazon’s ambitious plan to increase its entertainment offering to consumers, and an escalation in Amazon’s rivalry with Netflix. It also signals both companies’ broader ambitions to revolutionize the so-called windowing system for television and movies in the traditional entertainment industry.

Both online firms have become stronger rivals to Hollywood studios and television networks, with their growth in subscribers and ability to fund dozens of new projects. In the fall, Netflix announced movie deals with the comedian Adam Sandler and said it would release a sequel to the movie “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” simultaneously across the globe and in a select number of Imax theaters.

It makes the earlier distribution on Amazon’s home delivery service, opposed by theater owners, “an easier pill to swallow,” he says. “Maybe this is the way to bridge this distribution gap,” says Bock. “It will be interesting to see how this plays out. In an email, Roy Price, vice president of Amazon Studios, described the projects as “indie” movies, with budgets between $5 million and $25 million. Right now, they are another player in a tough marketplace.” The original movies initiative will be led by indie-film veteran Ted Hope, who co-founded and ran Good Machine, the production company behind Eat Drink Man Woman and Crouching Tiger. Analysts cautioned that if the films were low-budget and of low quality, it would be difficult for them to profoundly alter the conventional system for theatrical releases.

Still, said Rich Greenfield, a media analyst with BTIG Research, the announcement adds to the pressure on traditional business models and gives consumers more of what they want. “In 2015, consumers don’t understand why there is an exceedingly wide gap between seeing a movie in a theater or seeing a movie at home,” he said. A week ago, Amazon’s original series “Transparent,” a dark comedy about a family in which the father comes out as transgender, won a Golden Globe for television comedy. When Sony Pictures Entertainment’s released “The Interview” last month in theaters and online at the same time, the theater-owners group said the studio probably didn’t make up for the cost of the film because it only played in a small number of theaters. Also last week, Amazon announced that it had reached a deal with the filmmaker Woody Allen, in which he would write and direct his first television series. Price said the film projects would not go through the same pilot process as its television series, where the company decides whether to go forward with projects partly based on viewer feedback. “Though a lot of the attention in the industry and press has been focused recently on television series, and it is indeed a new golden era in television, we think the death of film has been greatly exaggerated and films can and will continue to be a vital, brilliant and unique part of culture in America and throughout the world,” Mr.

In 2010, the giant retailer created a stir in Hollywood with the start of its studio group, which solicited online submissions for full-length movies. Amazon said at the time that it would award a total of $2.7 million to the top submissions and would develop the projects into commercial feature films. Netflix faced resistance after announcing its plans for the “Crouching Tiger” sequel, with two major theater chains saying that they would not screen the film.

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