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Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke on how Amazon is zigging where Netflix is zagging

In recent interviews, Salke offered hints about her strategy for building up Amazon Studios’ movie division in an era of Netflix surplus.

Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke on how Amazon is zigging where Netflix is zagging
[Photo: courtesy of Amazon]

A year into her tenure at Amazon, and on the heels of a record-breaking spending spree at the Sundance Film Festival, Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke finally gave a peek behind the curtain at Amazon’s film strategy. 

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The key message: We’re zigging where Netflix is zagging. 

In interviews with The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, and other trades, Salke emphasized that Amazon is not in the volume game and plans on releasing just 10 films theatrically this year (others will be released on Amazon’s streaming platform). Netflix, meanwhile, plans on churning out 90 in 2019.

Most of those films will be available exclusively on Netflix, regardless of their size or genre. Amazon, in contrast, which has historically released films in theaters and on Amazon Prime simultaneously, will give its bigger films a wide, theatrical release with a traditional 90-day window before the films hit the streamer. Smaller awards contenders will receive shorter, one-to-three-week windows, akin to what Netflix did last year with Roma.  

Netflix still remains devoted to its streaming-first model, though with increasingly more exceptions. Last fall it made a major pivot when it allowed not just Roma, but the Coen brothers’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and Birdbox longer theatrical windows. It remains unclear at this point if some of its upcoming high-profile films, such as Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman and Steven Soderberg’s The Laundromat, will get the same treatment. 

Salke said she’s dividing Amazon’s releases into three major categories: bigger commercial movies that will be released theatrically, along the lines of The Big Sick, the $56 million-grossing romantic comedy that Amazon released in 2017. Some of the films that fall into that bucket that will be released this year are the Mindy Kaling-Emma Thompson comedy Late Night, which Amazon bought at Sundance for $12 million; Brittany Runs a Marathon, another Sundance acquisition starring Jillian Bell. The service will also invest in smaller, art-house films that it will position for the awards race as it’s doing this year with Cold War. One is The Report starring Adam Driver that was also picked up at Sundance and will be readied for next year’s awards season. Finally, there will be straight-to-streaming titles that fall into the genre that Salke calls “sexy, date-night movies,” some of which Nicole Kidman’s Blossom Films will provide. Amazon also recently signed a deal with horror factory Blumhouse, which is producing eight thrillers for Amazon.

In interviews, Salke also stressed the major tactical difference between Amazon and Netflix, which uses films and TV shows to drive subscriptions to its one and only business: entertainment streaming. For Amazon, its streaming service is a small part of its overall business portfolio. Salke said that this factored into how she decided which movies to bet on, and that she always has to ask herself, “How are you enhancing Prime membership? How are you bringing new subscribers to Prime?” 

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She said she has the full backing of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and that, “We’re seeing the movie and I’m buying it a few hours later. Not one person [at Amazon] ever called me [at Sundance] and said, ‘What are you doing? Are you spending too much?'”  

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About the author

Nicole LaPorte is an LA-based senior writer for Fast Company who writes about where technology and entertainment intersect. She previously was a columnist for The New York Times and a staff writer for Newsweek/The Daily Beast and Variety

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