In the immediate aftermath of the Discovery/WarnerMedia deal, it was obvious that the next phase of the streaming wars could devolve quickly into consolidation via content acquisitions. While Disney’s potentially alright on its own, we’ve seen Netflix attempting various methods of content growth as well. Comcast only recently launched Peacock, but there’s already concern that they may need to combine forces with ViacomCBS’s Paramount+ to truly compete.
Amazon, flush with cash (but also antitrust concerns), has made plenty of moves in recent months strengthening the Prime Video platform with an NFL deal and big-name talent signings like that of Donald Glover, plus the reveal that over 175 million people had streamed movies or TV shows using Prime over the last year. Those are all great pieces of news that start moving the needle toward Prime Video being a bigger player in the streaming wars. On Wednesday, they took an even larger step there, announcing the intention to buy MGM Studios at a price of $8.45 billion.
For starters, money’s of no object to Amazon. But even it was, that wouldn’t necessarily matter. MGM gives Amazon the following right off the bat:
- Greater film industry chops, which will help with theatrical distribution, quality of its movie outputs and greater ability to negotiate with top talent
- Franchise-level IP that attracts viewers to theater and streaming
- The deal paying for itself in less than a decade, with the timing depending on how many blockbusters they can churn out
Even in today’s environment, buying a movie studio is a money machine if you have known IP with franchise potential. Disney’s Marvel buy for $4 billion back in 2009 was a steal shortly thereafter because of the repeatable billion-dollar box offices it could generate (over $22.5 billion and counting worldwide). In purchasing MGM, Amazon gets access to the likes of the James Bond films, most importantly, from a box office standpoint — which could be enough on its own. But also: The Hobbit, Rocky, Barbershop, the Dragon Tattoo series, Species, Robocop, Legally Blonde, Poltergeist, Carrie, G.I. Joe and more.
We know franchises are crucial for streaming service subscriber retention. It’s the crux of Disney+’s audience acquisition strategy, new services seem to be banking entirely on it, and even linear TV is getting scared to do much else. Netflix appeared to be a holdout due to the sheer volume of content at its disposal. But even they appear eager to cash in on some of that bankable IP hype with the Sony post-theatrical release window that centers on the immensely popular Spider-Man.
So while Amazon will certainly take the box office earnings, the big play here will be streaming and finding an increasing number of ways to get people into its video ecosystem; whether that’s via ad-free Prime Video or ad-supported IMDB TV. Acquiring this much content all at once allows Amazon to reset the rules on exactly what it is to consumers. To-date, it’s largely been a nice add-on to the Amazon Prime delivery service. Between this, more notable creator channels and the NFL, Amazon starts making a better case that it’s more essential for audiences than many of its video-on-demand competitors.
Maybe not Disney+, mind you, just due to the scope of that ecosystem and the power of that IP. But MGM gives Amazon the ammo to much more easily go toe-to-toe with the likes of HBO Max/Discovery+ (VOD only – not live TV) and even Netflix. And unlike Netflix, for close to the same price, Amazon also gives you free two-day shipping, a music service, and grocery delivery and discounts. Sounds like a pretty good deal, especially if this finally spurs Amazon to do something about the clunky interface.
There will be antitrust scrutiny here, of course. Yet one way or another, Amazon’s plotting its path forward as a larger player in the ongoing streaming wars. And the rest of the industry may now be forced to play catch up with a company that can basically outspend all of them en route to dominating the streaming business.