Amazon Starts Licensing Originals: Netflix, Your Move

Netflix and Disney+ have ads, but Amazon has another idea.

Amazon Studios will soon license its original shows and movies to third-party platforms. The newly formed Amazon MGM Studios Distribution, announced on Monday, will license out Amazon originals (and continue to license MGM content) worldwide, making Amazon Prime Video the first major streamer to enter syndication in such a big way. Will Netflix be second? After all, no one covets revenue more.

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As the once-bulletproof streaming industry collectively searches for new revenue streams, Netflix has arguably been the most vocal about the importance of the top-line accounting number. The king of the streamers, once faithfully married to one lone revenue stream, previously touted subscribers as its primary metric of success. Nowadays there is ad revenue from the “Basic with Ads” tier and unearthed subscriber revenue from paid sharing, and Netflix shareholder letters no longer offer subscriber forecasts.

They do, on occasion, offer new lines in the sand. The fine print in Netflix’s April 18 first-quarter earnings letter reads: “Among our streaming video competitors, our traditional entertainment peers appear to be focused on revenue diversification (across theatrical, linear TV, and third party licensing) as they manage through the hard transition from legacy businesses to streaming.”

With a line like that in writing, it is unlikely Netflix will license its content anytime soon. Still, we asked; they did not answer. You’ll recall Netflix was also the company that swore it would never have commercials.

Amazon is not the only major media company licensing its content elsewhere. Warner Bros. Discovery is currently licensing its programming in FAST channels on Roku and Tubi. There are also plenty of individual deals out there: Paramount Global famously licensed “South Park” to HBO Max and still has its “Yellowstone” streaming on Peacock, not Paramount+. To be fair to Paramount, licensing was the way things were done until it was not. Now it is again.

But maybe not for everyone. Amazon Studios is in a fairly unique position in the marketplace. It can afford to devalue its own programming via licensing as Prime Video content is really just one service of the popular Prime membership package, which also includes music, reading, gaming, and additional shopping perks. It’s not even the main reason for most subscribers — that’d be the free, two-day shipping.

Amazon Prime Video doesn’t bring in advertising revenue — there are no ads, aside for those for other Prime Video shows and films. No matter, Amazon is the second-largest company (by market cap) in the world.

So perhaps we should not be asking “Who got next?” here to Netflix, but to Apple, the only company larger than Amazon. They have similar structures (other Apple services include iCloud+, Music, Arcade, Fitness+, and News+). We asked Apple about licensing their content, but did not immediately receive a response.

Amazon MGM Studios Distribution is down to customize bundles, pre-package its programming in FAST channels, and even just let a third-party platform license a single show. Don’t freak out, Amazon Prime loyalists — Amazon Studios series and films will not air or stream anywhere else first. Amazon Prime Video will continue to have exclusivity on the initial window, an Amazon/MGM Studios spokesperson told IndieWire. And the series or films will not leave Prime Video’s library when licensed by a third party.

This push will not impact Amazon and MGM films’ theatrical releases, the person said. Most of the licensing of both series and films will probably be done internationally where Prime Video is not available, or on traditional linear television. (Prime Video is currently available in 240 countries and territories.) But yes, in theory, “The Boys” or “Air” could end up in Netflix’s library as well as Prime Video’s; we know Netflix is cool being the licensee.

At launch, Amazon Prime Video series that will be made available include “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “Goliath,” and “Hunters.” Movies 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.” Ottinger will have those at his disposal, as well as the MGM titles he already had, like: the “Bond,” “Rocky,” and “Creed” movies, as well as TV shows like “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Vikings,” “Fargo” and the upcoming MGM+ original “Hotel Cocaine.”

Amazon will start writing up licensing deals out of LA Screenings; Amazon/MGM will hold presentations May 19 and 22 at the Amazon Studios offices in Culver City. Chris Ottinger will be the smiling face that greets you at the door.

Ottinger, who has led the distribution team at MGM for more than a decade, will head Amazon MGM Studios Distribution. He’ll report to Brad Beale, the vice president of worldwide licensing and distribution. Jen Salke runs the show.

“The launch of Amazon MGM Studios Distribution reinforces our commitment to bringing the very best content to audiences everywhere worldwide,” Salke said in a Monday press release. “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.”

“Pioneering the distribution of Amazon Originals for Amazon Studios is an exciting opportunity to bring fresh, never-before available quality content to audiences around the globe,” Ottinger added. “In doing so, we will break through the current sales mold by creating custom packages that will fulfill our client’s individual content needs.”

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