The Pitfalls Of Amazon Studios’ Animation Strategy

Amazon-Studios

Amazon Studios is the retailer’s original content division that has been covered before here on the blog because it appears to have some merit to it even if it’s far from perfect. Announced just recently is the news that they have officially sanctioned five new animated shows to move forward with the production of pilot episodes. The notable thing about them is that they are all aimed at pre-schoolers; none will appeal to a kid who can appreciate the summer holidays. So what kind of pitfalls can the Amazon Studios animated series’ present for the would-be hit maker? Let’s take a look.

Only One Episode Of Each Is Being Made: The Pilot

It’s tempting to think that Amazon Studios has announced five different series, but they’ve actually only announced five different pilots. That’s a big difference and one that’s clearly aimed at keeping costs down. The downside is that they’re only producing one episode that may not be very good at all. Pilot’s are test beds, proofs of concept and a chance for executives to see how a show might play out for real. Pilots serve a valuable purpose, but here, it’s hard to see why they are treated so heroically.

No details are given as to whether these pilots will even see the light of day as far as the public is concerned. One would hope that they will be given trial runs with mainstream audiences to see how well they resonate with them, but you can never be sure. Plenty of pilots have been buried never to see the light of day. while conversely, they can also be jaw-droppingly awesome and yet still fail to get picked up.

They Picked the Toughest Market Segment

Yup, pre-school is the hottest market segment as far as animated shows go. Everyone is in on the act from monstrous conglomerates like Disney and Viacom to independent studios run by husbands and wives. Of all the ages of people to create for, why did Amazon choose this one to focus on?

Would it not be easier to aim for older kids or teenagers instead? One would think so, and yet the company has so far only announced one pilot for that audience. Were there really fewer ideas submitted? Hardly.

It’s Not Quite As Lucrative As You Would Expect

That’s not to say that Amazon Studios won’t make a lot of money through pre-school shows (it will), the problem is that pre-school shows have pre-school audiences. Once they reach a certain age, they leave and never return. Related merchandise sales also stop, and it becomes necessary to constantly market to new entrants.

This can become problematic when you realise that pre-school shows themselves have a terrifyingly short lifespan. Sure Sesame Street and Dora the Explorer have been around for ages, but the vast majority of pre-school animated shows don’t tend to bridge generations very well. Part of the reason is that child psychology and parent’s demands are continuously changing. For example, in my day, there was much more of an emphasis on entertainment whereas today, it’s seriously difficult to get a pre-school show made and out there if it does not contain a significant amount of educational content.

So with such a limited audience, won’t that limit Amazon’s potential to make money from the series? The answer is yes, because unlike Disney, Viacom et al, Amazon does not also have animate shows aimed at older kids. The result is that once they “graduate” from their pre-school shows, there is nothing for them to transition to. Now bear in mind that at this point, such circumstances are circumstantial; Amazon can afford to wait before it announces shows for older kids, yet the fact remains that it is foregoing those audiences now.

Netflix is Still The One Amazon Studios Has To Beat

Although Amazon is focusing on creating original content, pseudo-competitor Netflix already has a large headstart. Sure they lack the original programming, but they have a massive library to draw upon. More so than that, they have become synonymous with the words “online streaming” and have a commanding lead over Amazon in the public’s mind. Netflix is also available on more platforms, already has a dedicated kid-friendly service (so Mummy and Daddy don’t have to play the progamming for the child) and has all the programming for the young audience once they get older.

Conclusion

I’ve lauded Amazon’s initiatives before and they’re logic remains solid for the most part. (I won’t go into the differences between their ‘pilot’ strategy and Netflix’s ‘all-in’ approach.) Their decision to aim for pre-school audiences remains a mysterious one. No doubt they will be drawing upon their vast amount of data on sales of toys to help them finesse their approach.

Would you rather see Amazon make an animated series for older viewers? Let us know with a comment!

Amazon Bets on Animation

New business models is something that interests me. Thankfully, we’re living in the age of new business models as traditional become obsolete/irrelevant and new ones spring up to offer new delights and take advantage of new technologies. Online streaming of video content is one of these new business models. Netflix has shown that it can be easily accomplished with existing content and plenty of YouTube channels have shown some viability for original content (albeit of short length). So where to next? Why long-form original programming of course!

This remains the quote/unquote holy grail of programming. Many folks know that the internet already delivers great content but the ‘sit-up’ nature of web surfing determines the short length of the content. In contrast, Netflix has cornered the ‘sit down’ nature of traditional TV viewing. Can both ideals come together peacefully? Amazon is betting, yes.

Their Amazon Studios outfit (which I have discussed) has been soliciting ideas for a while now. At the time of the announcement, a brief Twitter discussion between myself and Brown Bag head Cathal Gaffney ascertained that the terms being offered ($55K upfront with a cut of merchandise thereafter) did not make economic sense for a traditional studio such as his.

It did, apparently, make sense for someone, because Amazon has announced [Cinemablend but ultimate link to The Hollywood Reporter, an organisation which doesn’t seem to want to cite a source] that their first animated series to be developed will be called ‘Supa Naturals’. Described thusly:

Supa Naturals is about two brash young divas whose lives revolve around shopping, and whom, it turns out, are humanity’s only hope for a defense against the supernatural.

Hmm, sounds, uh, interesting. Anyway, the fact that Amazon is willing to bet on the future with animation. Although the nature of the series is still very much unknown, I doubt it will be suitable for all ages. In stark contrast, Netflix is moving into original programming with House of Cards and a revival of the hilarious Arrested Development; both live-action.

Does Amazon see a potential that Netflix does not? Animation has proven to be an extremely popular form of entertainment that has weathered well over the past 20 or so years (in general if not on specific networks). Amazon’s sign that they are willing to take a risk with only their second announced series is surely a sign of confidence in animation’s ability to find an audience. While it remains to be seen what kind of quality the show has, if the current crop of animated content on the cable networks is anything to go by, it shouldn’t take much to get a foothold in the market.

Until then, I eagerly await the announcement of Netflix’s first foray into animation.

Does The Amazon Studios Offer Even Make Sense?

Last week there was a suitable amount of buzz around the internet as Amazon, erstwhile behemoth retailing company, began soliciting ideas for original programming for its fledgling Amazon Studios enterprise. However, as Brown Bag head Cathal Gaffney was quick to tweet, the offer doesn’t make a lot of sense, at least not for a studio like his. But do they make sense for anybody?

From a creator’s standpoint, the deal could be quite good. An immediate $55K for your effort and a cut of merchandise sales thereafter. That’s not too shabby in the grand scheme of things and will probably placate the majority of independent creators.

However, the fact that there are a number of unknowns about the deal is concerning for a number of reasons. For example, who will produce the content? Animation is animation, but all studios are not created equal. At least with the major networks, you know that they will likely use their own studio for the production, or use a high-quality sub-contractor if need be. With the Amazon deal, nothing is mentioned. Assuming they want to keep costs down, that has the potential to mean the bottom of the barrel could be producing things.

Secondly, there is, as Cathal points out, not much incentive for traditional, established studios to submit. Outside of having a great idea, there is nothing else in the deal for them. Most studios want someone to pick up there idea, but they also want the opportunity to produce that idea and generate revenue for themselves. The Amazon deal doesn’t do that, which is a tough sell when your business needs a recurring revenue stream, not just a shot in the arm.

In fairness though, Amazon are quite upfront about the deal and have a comprehensive Q&A page that lays out a lot of the details in clear language. There seems to be a lot less chance that people will get swindled if their good faith is to be believed.

Overall, the Amazon initiative is a positive direction in terms of the new era of content creation that is currently dawning on us. Much remains to be seen, and its likely that most of the content will be from individuals and small independents, but I’m decidedly curious to see what ideas Amazon chooses to pick up. Will they be similar to the current offerings or will we see a bold internet company take a step in a different direction. Only time will tell.