If there’s a perfect example of Amazon Studios’ strategy with its local-language international TV content, Japan’s “Documental” would be it.
The series revolves around 10 comedians who battle to make one another laugh in an elimination-style competition. James Farrell, Amazon Studios’ head of international originals, said it was a good example of an unconventional idea from a local market that took off. “Documental” ranks high among Amazon Prime Video’s most-watched shows in Japan.
“It was just so crazy, we took a flier on it,” Farrell said Monday during his keynote address with Georgia Brown, Amazon Studios’ head of European originals, on the opening day of the Mipcom confab in Cannes, which runs through Thursday. “It’s one of our top shows there.”
Amazon’s headlong charge into vernacular production in big territories in Europe, Asia and elsewhere was underscored when Farrell and Brown turned their keynote address into a “help wanted” ad for scripted creative executives in Italy and Spain. They went so far as to flash their own email addresses and those of other Amazon executives in the call for job candidates, to the delight of the Mipcom crowd at the Palais.
“We’re hiring if anyone is interested,” Brown told moderator Peter White, international co-editor of Deadline. “It’s a fantastic job. Feel free to email me.”
Amazon at present has platforms and budding infrastructure in about 20 major countries. The international outposts of Amazon get about five to 10 shots a year at original series content so they have to be selective and strategic about what they greenlight, Farrell said. “It’s not a quantity play. It’s a quality play,” he said.
The big five markets outside the U.S. for Amazon are the U.K., Germany, Spain, Italy and France. Farrell and Brown said they look for “white space” in each region’s content mix where they can insert distinctive twists on familiar formats, like documentary series and reality shows as well as scripted series.
Brown made a point of disputing the myth that algorithms and data drive programming decisions at digital streaming platforms. She said it’s as much about going with your gut and realizing that an Amazon show has to be utterly unique if it hopes to compete with well-established traditional networks.
“People talk about ‘Oh, where’s your Big Red Button of data,’ and that’s just not how we work,” said Brown, who joined Amazon in 2017 from production and distribution powerhouse Fremantle.
The recent success of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s “Fleabag” and other Amazon co-productions in Britain has been a sea change for the U.K. TV industry, Brown and Farrell observed. “Fleabag” and “A Very British Scandal” proved that well-made contemporary content with a British accent travels well, in addition to the period dramas of the Victorian and Edwardian eras.
“The key for co-productions in the U.K. is that we’re looking for shows that absolutely have their beating heart in the U.K. and in their DNA feel very British because we know we’ve got a great customer base for those shows around the world,” Brown said.
Farrell noted that it’s not just the Brit-TV productions that gain traction in far-flung markets. “‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ is our most pirated show in China,” he noted. “We’re past the point of asking, ‘Are we going to make this a global show, are we going to make it a local show?’ Now it’s just ‘Let’s make it great.'”