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Amazon Expects More Straight-to-Series Orders, Output Deals

Amazon is to move away from pilots and increase its straight-to-series orders as the company tries to remain nimble and competitive in a crowded marketplace that includes the likes of Netflix and Apple, Amazon Studios boss Roy Price said Friday.

“I think pilots will probably have to play less of a role going forward…because the reality is they slow you down,” Price told a packed auditorium at the Edinburgh Intl. Television Festival. To get a series off the ground already takes 12 to 18 months, “and with a pilot it’s two years,” he said.

“The reality of the marketplace is it’s competitive, and often you just have to go to series…both from a timing point of view and a competitive point of view,” Price said. “We have a few pilots in the works now, but I think there’ll be fewer than before. We still have customer feedback, but I think there’ll be fewer pilots for sure.”

Recently, the streaming giant announced a straight-to-series order of “Hanna,” based on the 2011 movie, from NBCUniversal International Studios, and fantasy drama “Carnival Row.” Price confirmed Friday that Orlando Bloom is set to star in the latter.

Finding distinctive offerings remains the challenge, Price said. “If you’re going to differentiate against many, many shows that are out there, I think a show has to have a distinctive voice,” he said in a free-ranging onstage conversation with Jay Hunt, the outgoing programming chief of Britain’s Channel 4. “The only way to get it is to find a creator who’s super-talented, who has a strong vision for a show and doing something new.”

That also means bringing more talent in-house in deals like the one that saw Shonda Rhimes join rival Netflix. Amazon has a partnership with Jill Soloway, the creator of “Transparent,” and recently announced a deal with “Walking Dead” creator Robert Kirkman. Price expects more. “That’s inevitable,” he said. “We’re going down that road as well for sure.”

Price put the cost of a “normal show” at between $4 million to $6 million an hour, though some shows cost twice that. “Game of Thrones” has changed the equation, he said, describing it as the “Jaws” of the television world. “Bigger world, bigger budgets – that’s something that I would anticipate throughout the marketplace,” Price said, while swatting away questions as to whether Amazon was preparing something on the scale of “Game of Thrones.”

In the unscripted arena, he pronounced himself pleased with the performance of motoring show “Grand Tour.” Price also acknowledged Amazon’s growing move into live sports; earlier this month, the company snatched U.K. rights to the ATP tennis world tour away from Sky.

“People love sport. It’s big, engaging, really motivates people. So it’s a good opportunity,” he said.

But Amazon continues to keep its viewer numbers secret, even from the producers of the shows it offers. Still, Price said that “viewership is fundamental” as one of Amazon’s measures of success; another metric is whether a show helps persuade someone to sign up for the company’s Prime Video service.

In general, “I think you can expect bigger shows,” Price said. “Whether it’s sport or unscripted or scripted television, it’s going to be ambitious, and there’s going to be a lot of great stuff to choose from.”

Not that he doesn’t regret the ones that got away. He expressed his admiration for “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “The Young Pope,” and “The Crown.” “Anything good, I chastise the team that they didn’t pick it up,” Price joked.

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