Amazon Studios and the “Open Medium”

Amazon Studios and Warner BrothersA friend informed me yesterday of Amazon’s search for the next big online series, and it’s actually a pretty great idea as far as I can tell. I looked into it, and it brought me to Amazon Studios, a division of Amazon.com that relies on online submissions and crowd-sourced feedback in order to produce creative materials such as comics, movies, and TV shows. Amazon Studios, in association with Warner Bros., is essentially calling upon literally anyone to submit an original idea/script with potential for development. If the script is selected for development, the creator receives $10,000; if the script is produced, the creator receives $55,000 and, of course, their series will be distributed on Amazon Instant Video. According to Roy Price, the director of Amazon Studios:

Everyone is looking for the next Irving Thalberg. What if the next Irving Thalberg is 6 million movie fans?

Amazon is groundbreaking in their quest for original material; their online competitors like Netflix, Hulu, and HBOGO, are failing in this regard. Amazon Studios seem to be alone in their willingness to acknowledge the potentially endless pool of talent made available by its subscribers. Efforts like this, even if unsuccessful, will prove to be vital in the evolution of television, and furthermore, the digitization of television. In their book, Console-ing Passions: Television as Digital Media, James Bennett and Niki Strange outline the prevailing assumption in regards to digital television when they write:

[Television is] a mass medium that has helped define the social collective experience…and digital television as a fragmenting experience in which we must all make our own choices…” (Bennett and Strange, 4)

This is obviously a dramatic simplification of the issue at hand, but they raise an important issue in regards to public and theoretical perception of digital television acting as an atomizing force. Amazon’s search for the next Irving Thalberg produces a useful commentary on the prospective hybridity of television; Milly Buonanno accurately labels television an “open medium”, and this is a key example (Bennett and Strange, 22). I would argue that as more companies and parties open their doors to user-submitted material like Amazon, television will only become more hybrid and open. Warner Bros.’ inclusion in the Amazon Studio search is an interesting part of the deal; WB essentially get first priority in claiming the rights to a series. If WB does not want to claim the material for themselves, Amazon is free to do with it as they please but likely in the format of a television series rather than a film. The Hollywood Reporter has commented on the impact of this type of deal between Amazon and WB:

By letting anyone submit a movie or screenplay to be considered for a major motion picture, Amazon Studios is really opening the doors to Hollywood.

As we can see, not only is Amazon drawing upon their subscribers to help produce original mini series to compete with Netflix, Hulu, and HBOGO, but they are allowing these creative thinkers (who would otherwise fly under the radar and never be detected) access to Hollywood studios. By relying on previously established writers and producers, Netflix, Hulu, and HBO are indeed missing out on this very pool of talent that Amazon and Warner Brothers are taking advantage of. Seeking Alpha notes that as major studios depend more and more on high-risk, high-reward productions (with budgets reaching $250M+), they, “…put a squeeze on the smaller story-driven dramas, quirky comedies or edge-of-your-seat suspense and horror films”. In other words, Amazon/WB could be cashing in on the (possibly) high return on investment offered by low-budget films that major studios don’t bother with. In this regard, Amazon’s efforts are respectable and worthwhile in that they attempt to truly open television up to the masses, not just for consumption, but for production as well.

Image found here and here.

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