Amazon is getting ready for its close-up: it's moving from making TV to making movies rumoured to appear in theatres before going online on Amazon Prime Instant Video.
The online retail giant launched Amazon Studios in 2010 to develop and fund new shows that would be shown exclusively on the Prime Instant Video streaming service. The goal is to build a catalogue of movies and TV that will persuade people to sign up to Prime. Thus far, Amazon has been a step behind rival Netflix, which has produced original shows such as the Kevin Spacey-starring "House of Cards" and has already announced plans for feature films. But Amazon scored a big win with the, leading a batch of TV shows born of public vote from a selection of pilot episodes shown on Instant Video.
And now Amazon has its eyes on the big screen. Amazon-produced movies will be made available to stream on Prime Instant Video in the US just four to eight weeks after their theatrical debut.
Amazon Original Movies will focus on "unique stories, voices, and characters" from "top and up-and-coming creators." Reading between the lines, that could hint at a focus on making films a little different from standard Hollywood.
The winning hand held by streaming services is that they have a wealth of very precise data on what people watch, which stars they seek out, and when they turn off. Particularly in the case of Netflix, that's a hugely powerful secret weapon, allowing the streaming service to order the full series of "House of Cards"and the like while TV networks hedge their bets by trying out a pilot.
As they move into movies too, perhaps Netflix and Amazon will have confidence in creators or stories on which Hollywood studios would be unwilling to take a punt.
Although there's no word on what will be the first projects, production is set to start later this year. Amazon says it will aim for around 12 movies a year. Although they will be aimed at theatres, whether each film gets a theatrical release will depend on the cinema chains themselves and whether they feel each project will actually sell tickets.
For those of us too skint/busy/lazy to take a trip to the flicks, waiting a month or two to see a new movie is a vast improvement over the current typical waiting time of 39 to 52 weeks for theatrical movies to land on subscription video services. However, that short wait is unlikely to impress cinema companies, as it could encourage people to stay at home and wait, potentially impacting ticket sales.
This year saw the biggest landmark so far in movies coming straight to online availability from theatres., being dumped online after the theatrical release was pulled then hurriedly reinstated as part of the fallout from the cyberattack on Sony Pictures blamed on North Korea.
Amazon Original Movies creative development will be headed by Ted Hope, producer of films including "American Splendor" and "The Brothers McMullen". Hope also co-founded the company that produced "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon". The sequel to this will be the first feature-length film to be produced by Netflix.