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01.23.2015

Op-ed : "Amazon Studios vs Netflix: Generation hashtag TV in Hollywood" by Laure Kaltenbach and Olivier Le Guay

Barely three years… It took Amazon Studios, the e-shopping giant’s subsidiary, less than three years – between the launch of its first two series Alpha House and Betas in 2013 and two Golden Globes for Transparent in the beginning of 2015 – to gain the recognition of Hollywood. Netflix, with also two Golden Globes, confirms that TV series are entering a new era.

 

Article previously published in French in La Croix

New behaviors and new perspectives for creation. By awarding for the first time two prestigious Golden Globes (Best comedy series and Best actor for Transparent) to an original production of a 100% SVOD studio, Amazon Studios, while consecrating its direct competitor Netflix with two statuettes (for House of Cards season 2 and Orange is the new black), the 2015 edition’s jury validated the promise of new behaviors for spectators, and the perspective of new dynamics regarding audiovisual creativity – without even mentioning new markets. If quality and streaming are now compatible, it is still Pandora’s box which was opened: while none of them was rewarded, what is an historical fact, great networks (ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox) are now facing a competition with quasi limitless resources, establishing its own market rules (Amazon does not pay any dividend) and ready to fight.

The advent of the Generation Hashtag TV. Amazon Studios and Netflix’s success confirms the rise in power of an audience who wants to have its say and whom these new studios has no hesitation in consulting. Their offer meets this Generation Hashtag which uses television everywhere and on all screens, as defined by the eponymous study by Bain & Company for the Forum d’Avignon: “an audience who transcends the ages, combining digital natives and digital migrants. The first ones live through the social networks with which they were born and have grown. The second ones, even if older, have adopted these media with enthusiasm and rapidity. They are now more numerous than the analog die-hards; these publics are the favorite conquest breeding-ground of the new broadcasting models.” Two figures of the Bain & Company study show the nature of the wave on which Amazon and Netflix are surfing: 63% of the adults over 35 years old watch videos online, more than two thirds of the respondents aged from 15 to 25 years-old declare choosing their videos, music and books thanks to the recommendations  they find there.

A recognition that is worth gold. That of the critics who compose the most of the Golden Globes jury leads to a triple virtuous effect. It strengthens their image of cultural player (instead of e-retailer) and allows them to attract prestigious castings (the famous A list: like David Fincher on Netflix, or Steve Soderbergh and David Lynch on HBO). Within a few days, Amazon Studios announced that Woody Allen signed for a series, and then that it would go into movie production (releasing movies online and in theaters simultaneously). Finally, this cultural aura represents a formidable promotion for their subscription service: some visibility for Amazon Prime Instant Video currently available only in the US, the UK and Germany, or some new markets for Netflix.

Troublemakers or new wave? The SVOD services do not only emphasize a tenacious competition between networks and cables, they also shake the production and diffusion ecosystem up. You just need to visit Amazon Studios’ website to understand how much the viewer is at the heart of the system, at all stages of the production, which we can sum up in four commandments:

  1. Thou shalt create your own talent network. Finding new talents before the others (by paying them $200,000 for a film script or $55,000 for a series episode) is a guarantee for the future. The new producers have fully understood that talents are not in Hollywood anymore. They need to explore new opportunities to get tomorrow’s projectbuster.
  2. To your viewer thou shalt ask for support. Farewell, audience rating and screen test, long live the social networks! Since 2013, Amazon Studios ask its audience to support 14 proposed teasers… to only keep 4 of them in February 2014. For its part, Netflix, after having consulted its customers regarding House of Cards with the success we know, dares to resuscitate at the request of the fans some series abandoned by the networks as it did in 2013 with Arrested Development, stopped by Fox in 2006.
  3. Thou shalt not make your viewer wait. Inspired by Netflix, which now goes further with its tool Postplay that facilitates the linkage between all the episodes of a season, Amazon Prime makes the whole season available. This ability, if it meets the binge-watchers’ impatience, will assuredly change, in the end, the narration – formerly built on successive turns of events (the famous cliffhangers) to keep the viewer from one episode to another.
  4. On quality thou shalt bet. Free from constraints (from censorship, financing by advertising and audience rating, or even from returns on investment for shareholders…), the creative dynamics of SVOD services now raises the stakes for talents regarding the historical operators (HBO…). They can take risk and bet on the long run: they participate in the renewal of television language while relying on an active network of series fans. By meeting with the demand, they both attract and retain viewers from other networks on already known successes.

 

2015 starts with a cymbal clash (or maybe an alarm sound) in television production. Not satisfied with betting on visibility and attractiveness of their audiovisual production, the American e-shopping giants also aim at sweeping away models, rules and frontiers for their own profit. What will we do if they also become books, music or video games editors tomorrow (holding both ends of the value chain) to affirm their economic and cultural power?

Before the worst happens, it is urgent that Europe equips itself with powerful platforms by gathering the energies, the creators and the means: we dream for example of a single access: Canal +, INA, Culturebox… gambling on the diversity of its cultures and talents. We have the technical capacity, the creativity and the works for that.

Rather than installing technical or legal barriers, necessarily provisory – which the audience does not understand well – let’s gamble on the creative and imaginative union, in the respect of copyright.