Original Amazon series like “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” will be sold off-platform to third parties for the first time, the company announced Monday as it launched the new Amazon MGM Studios Distribution. A revamp of MGM’s pre-existing distribution team, the division will now handle Amazon Studios/Prime Video originals in addition to current and library titles. Chris Ottinger, who led the MGM distribution team for more than a decade, will oversee the new division.
Ottinger will report to Brad Beale, the VP of worldwide licensing and distribution at Amazon and MGM Studios; Beale, in turn, reports to Amazon/MGM Studios head Jennifer Salke.
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“What did Amazon buy when they bought MGM? Well, they definitely got a big remakes and sequels catalog of rights,” Ottinger said. “They bought a finished product catalog, but they also got a big distribution business. In addition to my group, we have a domestic theatrical distribution business that was United Artists Releasing, we brought that in house. That is a business that is super important to us. And then there’s my business, which is we’re everything from PVOD (paid video on demand) and EST (electronic sell-through), airlines, even format sales. We’re in all these different segments. And looking at what we’re selling, could we be a better distributor if we had the Amazon catalog to bring through that pipeline? And the answer is certainly yes.”
Amazon Original film titles set to be distributed include “7500,” “All the Old Knives,” “Bliss,” “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” “Coming 2 America,” “I Want You Back,” “The Tender Bar,” “The Tomorrow War,” “The Voyeurs” and “Without Remorse.” TV titles include “Goliath,” “Hunters” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” That library will be sold by Ottinger and his team in tandem with MGM’s catalog of more than 4,000 film titles and 17,000 TV episodes, including film franchises like James Bond, “Rocky” and “Creed,” as well as series “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Vikings,” “Fargo” and MGM+’s upcoming “Hotel Cocaine.”
“With the integration of MGM, we wanted to take advantage of the existing team to expand our business in ways that will greatly benefit our customers around the world,” Salke said in a statement.
Ottinger points out that Amazon has always done some off-platform distribution — “Manchester by the Sea,” for example, was widely shown in theaters, while some TV titles have already been sold in international territories. “This concept of warehousing product in these big vertical SVOD services, that’s definitely been a strategy for some folks. It’s not clear to me that it was ever a strategy at Amazon,” he said.
But this is still a much more expanded effort now for those Amazon titles. The effort, which kicks off in a big way later this month at the L.A. Screenings marketplace, will include a variety of new windows, Ottinger said. That includes potentially selling Amazon originals in syndication, and free and basic cable TV, as well as AVOD (ad-supported video on demand) and even SVOD (subscription video on demand) and pay TV distribution.
“We really are looking at the product mix that we’re bringing to market is broad and diverse and some of these titles are going to work really well in free to air, and others are going to work better in more subscription type environments, pay television, basic cable,” he said. “We’ve been thinking a lot about a title like ‘Mrs. Maisel.’ That show is not probably a primetime, free-to-air network show. It’s more of a pay television type show… We’re going to be super careful about where shows end up. We want to make sure they’re going into the right environment.”
The goal, of course, is to generate more revenue from the Amazon product by adding it to MGM’s pre-existing distribution business. Coincidentally, the issue of long-term residuals from streaming content is at the heart of the current writers strike.
“To be frank, I’m the distribution guy, and I am so looking forward into just getting to market that, it’s hard for me to really have a strong opinion on it,” Ottinger said. “I think the best thing I can say on the topic of what’s the longtail worth or something like that is, we’re figuring that out ourselves right now. We’re going to start to learn over time what that looks like. But our goal, in terms of the strike, is we want to resolve it and in an equitable fashion, get everybody back to work as quickly as possible.”
Ottinger said Amazon MGM is also touting some of its off-platform offerings as almost first-run content, since some of the earlier fare wasn’t seen by large audiences. “’Goliath’ launched in 2016. That’s a pretty long time ago now,” he noted. “But it’s Billy Bob Thornton. It’s a great drama. I think most of the international audience probably hasn’t seen it. Amazon wasn’t that broadly distributed at that point.”
Meanwhile, Ottinger also noted that there’s a challenge in determining the value of titles that weren’t measured by traditional box office or Nielsen ratings metrics. “How do you price a movie like ‘The Tomorrow War,’ which probably should perform like a couple $100 million title? How do we price that? Because it wasn’t ever theatrically released,” he said. “Ultimately the market is going to tell us how much it’s worth. We look at these films and we look at their performance on our service. And we think about the budget and the cast and all the different components of what makes this film a film. But yeah, it’s a challenge. And truthfully, we had to do that ourselves to figure out how we would price it. Our buyers are going to have to do that and then all this product is going to go on air. And when it goes on air, it’s going to tell us how much it’s worth. We’re not really going to know until we see it on air.”
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