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Amazon Studios Chief on Viewer Strategy, Talent Deals and Another Season of ‘Fleabag’

Amazon Studios unveiled several announcements at the Television Critics Assn. summer press tour Saturday, including a first-look deal with Blake Lively, a first-look deal with Forest Whitaker’s production company and an overall deal with Lena Waithe.

In addition to the season renewals of “Carnival Row” and “The Expanse,” plus the series order of “The Banker’s Wife,” the studio revealed that several shows would not be returning, including “Too Old to Die Young” and “Patriot.” The company also shed some light on how its Heidi Klum-Tim Gunn competition will differ from “Project Runway,” and discussed its strategy as a studio that is just a part of a much greater e-commerce and web services giant.

Like most every other exec sitting on the TCA stage, Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke and television co-heads Vernon Sanders and Albert Cheng were asked about their streaming strategy vis-a-vis Netflix, which occasionally releases figures for its best-performing series. Though the Amazon team comes from traditional network backgrounds, they are unlikely to release viewership data in their current environment.

“Our company doesn’t embrace that strategy,” said Salke. “We agree that it’s not a strategy for us. We know what the numbers are, and that may change over time, but right now, we’ll talk about the success of our shows and single out shows that are overperforming, but we have yet to embrace a strategy across the company where we get out with actual numbers.”

“We don’t share absolute numbers,” said Cheng, adding that they do walk creators through certain metrics privately to show them how the shows are performing.

Salke also explained to the audience of TV critics and reporters that, with regards to Amazon Studios’ strategy, “our entire North Star is to entertain and delight Prime customers all over the world, so there’s a different strategy there.”

As part of a “customer-focused company,” Salke indicated that as part of the greater Amazon ecosystem — which has upwards of 100 million Prime members worldwide who primarily sign up to buy consumer packaged goods online — the studio is looking to curate its programming to satisfy that global customer base.

“We’re not in the volume business, we’re in the curating business of bringing individual shows… to our global diverse audience,” she said.

That frame of reference appears to connect with some of the studio’s upcoming programming. “Making the Cut,” the fashion-design competition show hosted by Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn, will have an e-commerce factor.

“The big difference here is a show that has a global e-commerce platform that is geared toward giving these contestants a really good shot” at creating a business, said Cheng.

Collaborating with Amazon’s fashion and retail arm has been “a great learning process for all of us, and will be the beginning of a great relationship where we work on more things like that, [though] not necessarily a fashion competition,” said Salke.

When pressed for a premiere date, Sanders said to expect the show to debut in the first half of 2020 rather than the latter half.

Further on the programming side, Amazon’s first-look deal with “Gossip Girl” alum Lively includes a show that will be set in New York and will have a fashion component, thought it will not quite be a fashion show, said the execs.

Aside from “Patriot” and “Too Old to Die Young,” “The Romanoffs” is also not returning for another season, though it has been said that that particular show was not intended to run for longer than a single season.

As for critical darling “Fleabag,” the Amazon Studios team was welcoming of another season, though Phoebe Waller-Bridge has indicated that she will not further the series.

When asked if Waller-Bridge has offered any “wiggle room” Salke quipped, “I dream of wiggle room and am basically her stalker.”

“Anything Phoebe wants to do, we are signed up to do,” she said. “Nothing would make us happier than to have her bring another season of that show, or anything else she wants to do. I’m forever the optimist, so I remain always hopeful until it’s really over.”

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