Clarkson and the 'Top Gear' team are 'very, very, very expensive' says Amazon boss

Jeff Bezos says Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May are "worth a lot and they know it."

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May left the BBC's "Top Gear" in controversial circumstances. Amazon

Signing Jeremy Clarkson and the "Top Gear" team was "very, very, very expensive" for Amazon, says Jeff Bezos. But speaking to The Telegraph, the Amazon founder and chief executive boasts Amazon is part of "a golden age of television".

Clarkson was fired by UK broadcaster the BBC in March after punching a producer when he was told he couldn't have a steak after a day of filming popular motoring show "Top Gear". Co-presenters Richard Hammond and James May followed their pugilistic colleague out of the door, and along with show producer Andy Wilman have now signed to produce three series of a new show for Amazon's Instant Video streaming service.

The chemistry between Clarkson, Hammond and May was one of the major factors in "Top Gear" becoming a global hit and one of the BBC's major moneyspinners. "They're worth a lot and they know it," said Bezos.

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Bezos wouldn't specify the actual figures involved in the deal with the "Top Gear" trio. The Financial Times reckons the deal cost Amazon £160 million ($250 million), while on the other side of the balance sheet "Top Gear" was reportedly worth £50 million a year to the BBC. Clarkson previously owned 30 per cent of "Top Gear", earning him millions from the show he first joined in 1988.

How Amazon monetises the as-yet-unnamed new show remains to be seen, especially outside the US, UK and Germany -- the only countries where Instant Video is currently available. Amazon's original shows, such as "Bosch" and the Golden Globe-winning "Transparent", are incentives to viewers to sign up to Amazon Prime, but are also set to be released on DVD and Blu-ray.

Amazon Instant Video is included in an Amazon Prime subscription along with access to music, ebooks and fast delivery, for £79 or $99 per year. Bezos describes the subscription as an "all you can eat buffet".

Various rival broadcasters were reported to be circling the trio when they left the Beeb, making this a coup for Amazon, which is producing more and more original TV shows for its Amazon Instant Video service. Other major stars working on projects for Amazon include Woody Allen, Terry Gilliam and Spike Lee.

In the same interview, Bezos hailed UK regulations with regard to drones as the company works towards a future of delivering your shopping by autonomous flying robot.

In a separate email to Amazon staff, Bezos responded to criticism of the company in a New York Times article that painted a bleak picture of the online retailer's "bruising" corporate culture. "The article doesn't describe the Amazon I know or the caring Amazonians I work with every day," reads the memo, which encourages staff to report problems to human resources or to Bezos himself.