Jan 21, 2015

    Amazon takes up indie-film challenge


    AMAZON is making a high-stakes foray into the challenging realm of independent movies, the latest step in its attempt to move beyond simply distributing digital entertainment content to creating it.

    Amazon said on Monday that it was aiming to produce close to 12 movies a year for cinematic release, which would then be available on its Prime video service within two months, significantly faster than the roughly one-year wait it normally faces to stream Hollywood releases.

    Amazon expects to focus on "indie" movies with budgets of between US$5 million (S$6.7 million) and US$25 million, spokesman Sally Fouts said. While modest compared with Hollywood blockbusters, the move will add to the already hefty spending at Amazon, potentially unnerving investors concerned about the company's lack of profitability.

    Such films have proved challenging even for major Hollywood studios such as Paramount and Warner Brothers, which have bowed out of the business in recent years, said Jeff Bock, box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations.

    "It's a tough, tough racket to play consistently," he said, pointing to the difficulty of getting good content and the competition for quality productions at festivals like Sundance.

    The move shows Amazon's growing ambitions in digital media, coming just days after the online retailer signed director Woody Allen to create a TV series and one of its existing series won a Golden Globe award, a first for Internet TV services.

    Unlike rival Netflix, a stand-alone Internet TV service, Amazon's Prime video service comes bundled with the Internet retailer's two-day delivery for items purchased on the site, which costs US$99 a year and is a key driver of revenue for the company.

    It remains unclear whether Amazon believes that the movie business can make money on its own, but most of its other ventures are ultimately aimed at bolstering its underlying retail business.

    Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is known for his hunger to tackle new markets, but the company has had a mixed track record, as with the recent Amazon Fire phone, whose price tag it has slashed after weak sales.

    Its movie-production gamble ups the ante for Netflix, which said in September that it would jointly produce a sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and in October signed a deal for comedian Adam Sandler to star in and produce four films to be shown exclusively on the service.

    National Association of Theatre Owners vice-president Patrick Corcoran declined to comment on Amazon's move, but said the time between cinematic and home video release would play into cinemas' decision on whether to take a particular film.