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Amazon Studios Execs on TV’s Streaming Wars: ‘We’re in a Different Business’

The streaming wars kick into high gear this year, but Amazon Studios believes it’s in an entirely different category. As newcomers such as HBO Max and Peacock enter a crowded landscape recently joined by Disney Plus and Apple TV Plus, Amazon execs told reporters on Tuesday at the Television Critics Association press tour that they’re “in a different world.”

“We’re in a different business model unlike the pure-play video SVOD [streaming video on demand] players,” said Amazon Studios chief operating officer and co-TV head Albert Cheng. “For us it’s about Amazon Prime customers, making sure we’re delivering value, that we’re looking at our content to drive subscriptions. … We don’t have to play as a substitute for a different type of service or compete in that way.”

Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke pointed out that as an arm of a global retailing powerhouse, her company thinks of its audience as “customers”: “You come into Amazon, it’s a very customer-focused company and we find ourselves saying ‘customer’ a lot,” she said. “We’ve never said those things before in our previous incarnations. But then you get in there and you realize, yeah, we do have a very different model and it’s very clear to us what those drivers are, who our customers are. It’s not that complicated for us and we really try not to pay attention to the competition.”

While other streaming services are standalone entities concerned with video subscriber churn and keeping its audience, Salke said Amazon Prime Video’s goals were different: “Any decision you see us make falls into three categories: is it enhancing the value of Prime subscription, is it driving Prime subscription and is it engaging a new audience with Prime in general. That’s how we make decisions, based on that.”

Cheng said Amazon Studios (and its Amazon Prime Video platform) doesn’t play the volume game — yet the streamer overwhelmed reporters with the sheer number of programming and talent deal announcements it made at the TCA. That included new deals and projects from Steve McQueen, Diego Luna, Gael Garcia Bernal and Brad Pitt’s Plan B production company, the casting of Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Richard Madden in “Citadel,” a new “Jack Reacher” series and more.

Other previously announced deals are starting to bear fruit: Salke and TV co-head Vernon Sanders said they’re “racing to get the deal done” on a high-profile project from Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds, while another is close with Connie Britton.

“We do know from the way we run our business how much is enough,” Cheng said. “We’ll never say no to a great idea, [but] there’s no minimum and there’s no maximum. In general we know we don’t have to fill it up with volume. That gives us the ability to focus creatively.”

Salke and her team have also been developing and programming Amazon with an eye toward its global subscriber base, which now runs at about 100 million. “Citadel,” for example, will be produced as a major series with Madden and Chopra Jonas as leads, but it will be supplemented with standalone local companion productions in India, Mexico and Italy. “We’ve created a truly global, action-packed spy series,” she said.

Besides its U.S. domestic productions, Amazon has a slate of between six to 10 original series in production in territories such as Brazil, India and France. Salke said those shows are also eyed at attracting a global audience.

“You look at movies like ‘Parasite’ and ‘The Farwell,’ and lots of different pieces of content, and [subtitles are] no longer a barrier to read a translation for our customers,” she said. “The world is big, but it’s getting smaller.”

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