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1 August 2019

Amazon gears content strategy tightly to international Prime audience

Amazon is the odd one out among the big technology players in so far that video is part of a global strategy arounds its Prime service rather than an isolated revenue stream in its own right. We can see other major content players starting to adopt some of the same rhetoric at least, such as Disney and Discovery when they talk about video being subsumed into a greater experience both within the box and outside.

Yet at the same time Amazon has recognized a need to break out of the Prime straitjacket and start monetizing video directly, as it has done with its Prime Video Channels. These are available only to Prime subscribers but as add-ons, sometimes for significant fees, such as $24.99 for MLB.TV and $14.99 for HBO in the US. Notably, these prices are the same as the channels would cost separately, highlighting how Amazon is positioning Channels to cement its position as an aggregator rather than cut price distributor, with the added value lying in the convenience of being able to access the content from one place rather than saving money.

But as Netflix has found, attempts to be a super aggregator are being thwarted by major content houses stripping their assets back to their own OTT services. Accordingly, it is impossible to watch say ESPN or Netflix itself on Amazon Channels, and the same will almost certainly apply to Disney+ and NBCUniversal’s streaming channels, as well as Warner Media’s. It will also probably hold for Apple TV, but then that too is being positioned as an aggregator and so would have a lot of content in common with Amazon. In the immediate future at least, Amazon will have a lot more original content than Apple TV.

Amazon is positioning live sports differently, dangling it as a carrot to entice consumers to take out subscriptions to Prime whose main practical benefit otherwise is free next day deliveries or retail goods. But the greater Prime strategy, part of which lies in softening consumers up to tolerate regular price increases, is in turn dictating content acquisition strategy, with a focus not just on global rights but widespread appeal, at least when it comes to non-sports content. Again, sports is different, at least at present, because rights are carved up on a local basis, but even there, Amazon is seeking regional or global coverage where possible.

Further evidence of that strategy has come recently, as Amazon has taken the knife to four original scripted series that had not made the cut globally. So Prime Video will not offer new seasons of comedy-drama Patriot, which ran for two seasons, or comedy series Forever, which had just one season. Similarly, The Romanoffs, from Mad Men’s Matthew Weiner, and Too Old To Die Young, have been cut after a single season.

Other series have made the cut, such as fantasy detective series Carnival Row and sci-fi series The Expanse, which are coming back for new seasons. At the same time, Amazon Studios has commissioned new series that its analysis suggests will have international appeal, such as adventure series, The Banker’s Wife, based on the eponymous best-selling novel by Cristina Alger.

Amazon Studios chief Jennifer Salke recently elaborated on how the strategy was diverging from competitors such as Netflix because of the Prime centricity. “We have a very unique business in the sense that our entire north star is to entertain and delight Prime customers all over the world, so there’s a different strategy there,” she said recently at the Television Critics Association’s press tour in the USA. “We will curate shows to bring to that global, diverse audience. We’re not in the volume business. We’re in the curated business.”

That last statement seems incongruous, for surely curating for a worldwide audience equates to volume, just that it is not concentrated in one place.