Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Amazon Gets Into the Sitcom Business

Amazon has been stocking up its Web-video offering with lots of old TV shows. Now it’s going to start making some of its own.

The company is pulling back the covers (a bit) on its plans to produce kids’ shows and sitcoms via its “Amazon Studios” unit, which has already been dipping a toe into the movie business. Word of the new push leaked out earlier this year, via hiring notices — such a useful way to track a secretive company! — and now Amazon is ’fessing up.

A bit. Amazon Studios head Roy Price won’t discuss his budget, or the number of shows he intends to make, or a timeline for getting them on the Web. But he is willing to sketch out a couple of notions:

  • Like the movie effort, Amazon is soliciting scripts for new productions via the Web, and will pay out modest fees — $10,000 for an option, $55,000 if a show gets produced, plus possible royalties — for stuff it likes.
  • The big difference between his TV effort and his movie effort is that Amazon intends (with some exceptions) to actually make the shows, and distribute them via its own “Amazon Instant Video” offering. (For the movie effort, Amazon is feeding scripts it likes to Warner Bros., which will decide what to do with them.)
  • Price says the shows he does make should look and feel like “real” TV shows, with commensurate production budgets.

Lots of wiggle room in all of this. So the big news is that Amazon is formally declaring that it’s in the original video business — just like Google, Hulu, Netflix, Yahoo and lots of other tech guys.

Not surprisingly, Price doesn’t want to talk about Amazon’s place in that newly formed constellation. But he does point out that this isn’t the first time the company has started making its own media. Amazon has already launched its own book-publishing business, and has started poaching “real” authors for that effort, and that has traditional book publishers terrified.

Hard to see Hollywood freaking out about this right now — particularly when they’re making a ton of money selling Amazon their old shows. But if this ever takes off, that could change.


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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald