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Amazon Has Great TV Shows. Now, About That Branding Problem

There's Netflix, there's Hulu, and there's an online retail giant that produces critically acclaimed TV. Were Amazon's Emmy hopes hampered by consumer confusion?

"Transparent"

“Transparent”

Amazon

There’s also “Amazon Fire TV” – a device that consumers can use to watch Amazon Prime Video, as well as rivals Hulu, Netflix, or any streaming service. And don’t forget “Amazon Channels,” a service that allows Amazon Prime members to purchase subscriptions to Showtime, Starz, and other entertainment networks.

Ultimately, Amazon is a $430 billion business, one that has disrupted and infiltrated every level of retail and shipping in addition to its sideline of entertainment production. It has dozens of products, of which “Amazon Prime Video” is one — and by no means the biggest. Ultimately, “Amazon” means different things to different people, and doesn’t always call to mind streaming TV. They just call it “Amazon.”

It’s not unlike the struggles faced by Yahoo! and XBox when they tried to get into the original TV programming business. Both companies are better known for services other than episodic television, and ultimately didn’t find traction in the space. (Yahoo! dropped out after “Community” didn’t move the needle, and XBox Entertainment Studios scrapped its series plans right before launch.)

“‘Amazon Studios’ sounds more relevant and appropriate than ‘Amazon Prime’, which people still believe is free shipping,” said a network marketing exec. “Hulu and Netflix are entertainment companies. Amazon is a retailer.”

Perhaps that gives some (including older) Emmy voters pause. But the real reason for Amazon’s limited Emmy tally may be even simpler: The service’s shows, while acclaimed, have had very narrow appeal.

“Another issue is that the brand of their TV shows is ‘small films,'” one of the marketing execs said. “It doesn’t seem like they’re using their data the way that Netflix and Hulu do – to program. Amazon seems to be going more for ‘art.’ From a branding standpoint, they need a big, loud show. ‘Transparent’ is loud, but not big.”

20160520_fleabag_ep02_varley_F8A5007.dng

“Fleabag”

Luke Varley

Amazon’s offerings have grown to include series such as “Fleabag” and the Billy Bob Thornton drama “Goliath,” but has plans to greatly expand its offerings now that the service has been made available in more than 200 territories. In unscripted, Amazon has added a whole slate of sports-related reality shows, including “All or Nothing,” “LeMans: Racing is Everything,” and “All Blacks,” about New Zealand’s national rugby team.

On the scripted side, Amazon has lined up projects from top-tier producers that appear to be perfect Emmy bait. David O. Russell has a two-season order for a top-secret drama starring Robert DeNiro, Julianne Moore and Michael Shannon; Julia Roberts also landed a two-season commitment for “Homecoming,” based on the popular podcast; “The Romanoffs,” from Matthew Weiner (“Mad Men”), is an anthology series about the descendants of Russia’s imperial family; Bryan Cranston is executive producing the anthology “Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams;” and Miles Teller stars in the crime thriller “Too Old to Die Young,” from Nicolas Winding Refn.

In other words, don’t underestimate Amazon or its massive programming investment. It’s in the game for the long haul, and can access what one rival deemed “the most powerful marketing machine on the planet.” However, Amazon’s current, confusing branding does a disservice to the breadth, depth, and prestige that comes with these huge bets. Now’s a good time to make a splash by creating a new TV brand that could become a household name. If Amazon were to streamline the programming service under a name beside “Prime Video,” and balance its lineup with more populist fare, the company could start to rival Netflix at the Emmys – and around the watercooler.

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