Type keyword(s) to search


No One At Amazon Seems to Know the Full Story About Studio Spending

Higher-ups are raving about the streamer's success, but the lack of data tells a different story.
  • Priyanka Chopra Jonas in Citadel (Photo: Courtesy of Prime Video)
    Priyanka Chopra Jonas in Citadel (Photo: Courtesy of Prime Video)

    Amazon will seemingly spend whatever it takes to produce a hit series and build successful international franchises for its streaming service Prime Video. In 2022 the company spent $7 billion on original shows, up $5 billion from 2021. That’s no small jump, but it’s one that Amazon Studios head Jen Salke has defended as a good strategy, despite not necessarily having any real data to back it up. However, according to a recent report from Bloomberg, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy seems to be in the dark about where exactly that $7 billion and however much the studio has spent in 2023 has gone — he’s asked executives for detailed budget analyses of the streamer’s biggest shows as Amazon moves forward with cutting up to 27,000 jobs.

    In April, The Hollywood Reporter released some stats from the studio, including the measly 37% of domestic viewers who watched The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power in its entirety, which, with a price tag of $715 million, is the most expensive series ever made (and that was just for Season 1). But after the THR story ran, Amazon limited what viewership data its own employees could see. And even before then, Amazon was hiding user reviews of The Rings of Power, seemingly in an attempt to keep bad reviews from potential viewers, proving a pattern of lack of transparency around its series’s success.

    The scrutiny of the budget comes as some of Amazon Studios’ most expensive shows, including Citadel, The Peripheral, and Dead Ringers, failed to crack Nielsen’s Top 10 Most-Watched Streaming Series list. Under Salke’s leadership, there’s also been millions of dollars spent on deals with creators like Phoebe Waller-Bridge that ultimately came up fruitless, despite all the buzz around her planned Mr. and Mrs. Smith series. Waller-Bridge’s original deal was for $60 million over the course of three years, money that could have gone to employee salaries or the creation of another series — and that's one of the few such deals Amazon Studios has publicly acknowledged. Waller-Bridge is currently working on at least one project under her new three-year contract, but whether or not that project actually sees the light of day remains to be seen.

    Netflix and Disney both spend more on original programming than Amazon Studios, but in Netflix’s case, that high investment pays off. The streamer regularly nabs the top spot in Parrot Analytics’s demand metrics, producing 37.9% of the biggest hits on streaming services. Not only that, but Netflix is finally becoming more transparent with its viewership data. In June, the company started publicly releasing data about which shows were the most watched that week, taking into consideration the length of the series and adjusting “viewing hours” accordingly. It gives customers, employees, and those series creators a transparent look at how each show is performing, which feels more important than ever as streamers continue to cancel programming, often with little explanation.

    Part of what’s making any sort of reporting for Amazon a little murkier is that it’s not just about views for the retail giant. Per Bloomberg, the company is also interested in “highly valued action" — that is, when viewers watch a series, how likely are they to then click through to purchase something on Prime? How many viewers sign up for a Prime membership specifically to watch a new series? Amazon is still first and foremost an online retailer, and the success of its programming is meant to complement that business structure. But those metrics are even more difficult to measure, making it easier for Amazon executives to provide speculative analysis instead of rock-solid numbers.

    Amazon raved about Citadel’s success overseas, but hasn’t provided any data to back it up. Salke recently told her staff that her bosses praised the work done by the studio’s team, but at the same time Jassy is asking for clearer budget numbers to make potential cuts. These mixed messages are especially confusing during an already uncertain time for many streaming series and the creators behind them, and the lack of transparency instills little confidence that the heads of the studio have a clear vision for the future.

    Brianna Wellen is a TV Reporter at Primetimer who became obsessed with television when her parents let her stay up late to watch E.R. 

    TOPICS: Amazon Prime Video, Citadel, Dead Ringers, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, The Peripheral, Andy Jassy, Jen Salke, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Amazon Studios