Amazon Shifts Its Video Streaming Focus to Go After More Blockbusters

January 18, 2018, 9:05 PM UTC

Are more superheroes coming to Amazon?

Amazon Studios, the e-commerce giant’s streaming film and television arm, has generally focused on more indie fare in recent years, lower-budget movies and series that look to build critical buzz as a means of attracting viewers. But, amid a period of transition at the studio that has seen major turnover in the leadership ranks, Amazon is now reportedly looking to shift its focus to more high-profile entertainment projects with larger budgets and the potential for broader reach. That’s according to a new report from Reuters, which cites anonymous sources. Meanwhile, Amazon said it does not plan to completely move away from indie films.

According to Reuters, the tech giant’s new streaming strategy could see Amazon Studios pursue more films that cost around $50 million each, rather than focusing mostly on indie films with budgets closer to $5 million. At least one source told Reuters that Amazon is still deciding how much of its film budget will go toward those more expensive films versus spreading money around on a greater number of relatively inexpensive indie movies.

Amazon has found success with some of its indie movies in recent years, including last year’s The Big Sick and 2016’s Manchester by the Sea, which both earned rave reviews and even pulled in $55 million and $77 million at the box office, respectively. Manchester by the Sea even gave Amazon the streaming service’s first-ever Academy Awards a year ago.

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Amazon acquired both of those films at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival, where the tech company has been engaging in bidding wars over sought-after indie film projects with the likes of streaming rival Netflix as well as traditional film studios. Amazon paid a reported $10 million for Manchester by the Sea and $12 million for The Big Sick. This year’s Sundance Film Festival kicks off this week, so the rest of Hollywood will likely be watching to see if Amazon changes its acquisition strategy after previously helping to drive up the prices of buzzy films by competing with Netflix and other studios. (For what it’s worth, the Los Angeles Times notes that this year’s festival features a “stronger than usual” lineup of new movies that will be up for grabs for Hollywood’s biggest studios.)

We are not abandoning the indie space, we are increasing the potential size of the audience for our films; that in some cases involves higher budgets, but in others not. It’s about the potential for the film not the cost,” Jason Ropell, Amazon Studio’s worldwide film head, said in a statement. “Our roots are in independent/prestige film and we intend to continue in that space using it as a springboard to expansion and scale.”

Rival Netflix seems to have found a balance of buying indie movies as well as blockbusters, by buying top independent titles at Sundance and other festivals while also landing bigger-budget films like Bright, the $90 million fantasy action film starring Will Smith. While critics hated Bright, enough Netflix users reportedly watched the movie to convince Netflix to sign up for a sequel. Netflix is spending up to $8 billion on original programming this year, while Amazon reportedly will spend closer to $4.5 billion this year.

On the television front, Amazon has already clearly signaled its goal of landing a broadly popular series on par with HBO’s Game of Thrones. In November, the company paid a reported $250 million just for the TV rights to the popular The Lord of the Rings fantasy novel series. That deal represents a massive investment for Amazon, which could spend millions more per episode of any resulting Lord of the Rings TV series based on production costs for a show like Game of Thrones.

Amazon is in the midst of a transition at the moment, following the departures of executives such as former studio chief Roy Price (amid sexual harassment claims) among others. Amazon Studios’ chief operating officer Albert Cheng is currently serving as interim head of the studio while Amazon reportedly searches for a permanent replacement for Price.