All through the pandemic, we saw filmmakers across the world release their films on OTT platforms. At that point of time they had no option. But now with theatres opening up, what kind of model do you see emerging?
There will be a hybrid model (1). What I was most proud of was the relationships we created with the talent involved with big films. Earlier, we were very transactional. We would launch the film, but never bothered to have any contact with the talent. Now we have deals with Eddie Murphy, Michael B. Jordan and Barbara Mori. I talk to Sacha Baron Cohen all the time. So, we have created a trusted relationship with those filmmakers and performers—rather than create a feeling like Amazon bought the movie and we are on to the next. It’s important to have that relationship. I got many calls from our partners saying that they felt like it was a global moment when their film was released on Amazon. Of course, it will never replace the feeling and satisfaction of sitting in a theatre and watching people experience their story and react to it.
They will look film-to-film, strategy-to-strategy, what’s the best way to experience the content for a global audience—a hybrid model, either released only on Amazon Prime Video (2), or have a full theatrical release and then have a second window on Amazon. We don’t have any hard and fast rule about that; it’s about the individual creator and best strategy for the content.
Are we going to see niche filmmakers increasingly bypassing theatres and opting for OTTs?
It will vary. Our job is to educate filmmakers who are working on niche content. For instance, look at Sound of Metal with Riz Ahmed (we have a deal with him and we are creating a slate of television shows and movies for our global audience), he put the movie on Prime Video, and got a huge global audience engagement— which I don’t think he would have got had he pursued a theatrical run exclusively. It depends on the partner and once we have enough examples, I would consider speaking to people who want to launch a big film or a small, niche film on Amazon Prime Video, and ask them how their feelings were, if they created a moment of cultural impact. People will be surprised with their answer that what they did felt good.
Covid-19 increased OTT adoption across the globe. But, that was a time when protocols compelled you to shut down your productions. How did you make sure that the show went on despite the restrictions?
The pandemic posed a lot of challenges. We had to shut down 60 productions across the world. These were active productions. There were a lot of shows in pre-production and post-production as well, so, a huge slate of content was stalled. We knew people were going to be at home, therefore we needed to offer entertaining content that would give them some escape and inspiration. We quickly pivoted to chalking out a plan to keep our originals coming through.
We were able to get some of our creators to think about doing something out-of-the box so that we could keep content coming for our global audience. We had to make sure they produced it safely and in a more contained way. It was pretty challenging, but the pandemic allowed for some creative experimentation. Big creative ideas came up, which may not have been supported before. They were contained and unusual in their concepts, and that kept the teams invigorated and excited. We also had content that was finished, and we worked hard to ensure that they went on the service.
The pandemic also enabled us to spend more time with our writers, which was most valuable. It was like pencils down, cameras down, we asked them what they love, what inspires them. Just as the pandemic has impacted us in so many different ways, the same goes with our talent. Many of our talent was pushing and asking themselves what kind of stories do I need to tell, just as I was asking myself how do I live, what am I going to do with my time now that I am not coming to office; our teams maintained a close relationship with them, and many inspiring ideas came out of that.
Which are those inspiring ideas that got translated into shows?
We worked with external partners from various studios to make big tentpole shows that would resonate. As theatres were closing down, we had the opportunity to get movies such as Mortal Kombat, Coming to America, Without Remorse and The Tomorrow War. It was a huge effort. It was not just one phone call, but non-stop contact with the makers—being sensitive to the fact that their business and their decision-making was really challenged and stressed during these difficult times. We were able to take some of their films and really create a great strategy. It paid off for us. We were able to drive so much engagement through 2020 and 2021 with those big tentpole films. It was a game-changer for us.
Those are the films you acquired. How did you keep your original content going?
We were able to keep our pipeline going with our bigger shows but we had to maintain Covid-19 protocols (3). We were able to experiment with shows such as Solos (4); we were also able to get some unscripted shows in the drama and comedy space. The creators were able to think differently about how they wanted to tell stories.
Did you have to make any changes to your business model?
We collectively realised that with production pipelines shutting down, we needed to license more content. We were able to create more content in a safe way. We had to invest as a company in putting productions back in running and getting all protocols in place. We were able to get some learnings from Amazon, from producers of different shows to bring to the table the best in class. Be it a gigantic tentpole series or an unscripted show, the level of investment for maintaining the necessary Covid-19 protocols is the same. We had to keep our viewers across the world with Prime Video, and we did that with experimental content as well as big tentpole films that we were able to acquire. We were able to get some of our shows that were in post-production accelerated so that we could launch. These were big shows, including Wheel of Time.
A lot of OTT platforms have started focusing on gaming? What’s your strategy?
We have launched a big, successful game (5), which we are very excited about. It’s been a thrilling time to start working across creative entities. Be it music, gaming, Audibles (6) or books, we have a much smoother, collaborative process now. With the launch of Wheel of Time, we are talking to the books team to see what is happening, with the incredible volumes of the book and sales of that, so we are able to figure out how we could speak to fans, and give them the best opportunity to dive deep within the content. If there is something on the games side which has a storytelling component that Prime Video can embrace, then it’s great. If there is a really successful Audible podcast which has a huge fan following and if those fans want more, Prime Video can step in and take the storytelling to another road.
So, we are having those creative conversations and we are focused on getting customers and viewers to come in and get much more than they expected. We already have several things in development based on games with various producers, we have exclusive deals with.
How important is diversity for Amazon Prime Video in terms of content creation?
It’s all about diversity. We live in a world of all kinds of people, all kinds of experiences and our goal is to ensure that our audiences see their lives reflected in our storytelling. That’s what is going to be most engaging for them.
Are you planning to invest in studios in India?
In India, we have been able to nurture a robust creative ecosystem and build a focused community of story tellers and creators. We are working with 60 production houses, across nine languages. We are always looking at investing in those partners. So, should it make sense at some point to invest or partner in a studio relationship in India, we will always be open. We definitely do that in the U.S., we pride ourselves in having our own in-house studio, which produces global tentpole shows or originals. Over time as our slates build across the world, we will need the studio space to produce that slate.