Amazon Studios is on a TV spending spree – but there’s a ceiling.
The company doubled its series production budget in the second half of 2015 vs. the previous year, just as Amazon Prime subscribers were up 47% in the U.S. year-to-year.
“It’s on an upward trajectory,” said Amazon Studios boss Roy Price, who touted the service’s new and returning series to reporters at the Television Critics Association press tour on Sunday. Upcoming new entries include David E. Kelley’s “Goliath,” starring Billy Bob Thornton, and Woody Allen’s “Crisis in Six Scenes.”
The elusive Price was extremely light on details, frustrating reporters with a lack of specifics on the state of Amazon’s TV affairs.
“This year, we’re up considerable in terms of original series,” Price said. “Look at the number of original series this fall. Add in the kids’ shows and also looking around the world, we’ll have 11 original series in Japan this year, and we’re developing in India. We’re shooting in Germany. It’s busy. Prime customers are responding, so volume and commitment are growing.”
But Amazon has also shown more of a willingness than rival Netflix to cancel shows early in their tracks. Shawn Ryan’s “Mad Dogs” wasn’t renewed for a second season, while Chris Carter’s “The After” never went into production after originally being picked up.
“Ultimately there’s some volume limit,” Price said. “But also sometimes something feels like it’s the best next show to do and sometimes not. For the most part, we’ve gone forward with orders, but there have been exceptions… as we mature as a service we’ll be glad to have more long-running shows.”
Why hasn’t Amazon been more open in explaining which shows are renewed and which ones are canceled? “I like to leave my options open,” Price said. “Perhaps it’s helpful to have some media alert that this show is going forward and this show is not. We’ll certainly review it.”
Among shows still in play: The Bryan Cranston-produced “Sneaky Pete,” which underwent a showrunner change (from David Shore to Graham Yost), is still on tap for next year. And Whit Stillman is working on scripts for the series “Cosmopolitan,” although there’s no word on when that series might actually see the light of day. “I have high hopes,” Price said.
One show that probably won’t continue – despite Amazon’s desire for more – is Woody Allen’s “Crisis in Six Scenes,” which premieres Sept. 30. “That’s something we have to figure out with Woody,” Price said. “We’ll see how he feels. He does a movie a year so it’s hard.”
Meanwhile, Price confirmed that “Alpha House,” which was one of Amazon Prime’s first shows, would not return for a third season. “‘Alpha House’ is not a current show,” he said, although adding, “As political events happen, it would be conceivable, fun to bring it back.” And the pilot “The Interestings” will not move on to series.
Something that won’t be going away: Amazon’s unconventional practice of posting series pilots online, for audiences to consume and vote on.
“You can take audience feedback, which has a lot of dimensions, and then you have critics and our own observations,” he said. “You have to put it in the mixer. I think it is helpful.”
Then there’s the streaming ratings reported by services including Symphony and Nielsen. Price joined Netflix boss Ted Sarandos in disputing the numbers. ” I saw one article about that and the numbers were definitely incorrect,” he said. “I can confirm that. They are definitely off. It’s not like they were off by five people.”