Amazon and Netflix are reaping the benefits of original content as the tech world continues its rush into media.
When Netflix and Amazon began experimenting with original content in 2013, the move felt tentative—could tech companies really step into shoes traditionally filled by the entertainment industry?
Less than four years later, these brands that formerly served as platforms for third-party content are widely recognized as innovators in film and TV, reaping financial and reputational benefits to match.
This month, for example, Amazon became the first video streaming company to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, for Manchester by the Sea. Amazon Studios distributed the critically acclaimed film after acquiring it at the Sundance Film Festival for $10 million in January 2016, besting Hollywood rivals including Sony Pictures Classics and Lionsgate. The film also received nods for Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress and other prestige categories.
This comes in addition to Amazon’s success in original television, with series including The Man in the High Castle, Transparent, and Mozart in the Jungle proving to be hits with viewers and critics. “They learned from television,” Jeanine Basinger, professor of film studies at Wesleyan University, told Christian Science Monitor. “‘If we can do this for TV, why can’t we do this for film?’ And what they’re finding out is they can.”
Netflix, for its part, is coming off a year of success in original content, upping its investment from $5 billion in 2016 to an estimated $6 billion this year. The show Stranger Things became a cultural phenomenon, while five out of 10 of the top Google searches for TV programs globally referred to Netflix titles, including Black Mirror, Fuller House and The Crown.
Overseas expansion has also begun paying off for Netflix. After a rocky start four years ago, Brazil by 2017 had become the company’s largest market outside the English-speaking world. Original content helped: a show called 3%, a near-future drama shot in São Paulo, was a hit in Brazil and beyond, with “millions” of US viewers streaming it with subtitles, according to the company. This also made 3% “the first Portuguese language television show to travel meaningfully beyond Latin America and Portugal,” Netflix said in its most recent earnings statement.
Other Netflix programs are also proving their transnational appeal. The bilingual drama Narcos, about cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar, was a hit both in Latin America and the United States, a rare cross-border success. The company said it would focus on producing more original shows with transnational appeal, such as Japanese anime and Turkish dramas.
Not all technology companies have been so successful. YouTube, owned by Google, has seen weak subscriber growth in the first year of YouTube Red, its paid subscription service that offers original programming.
But that hasn’t deterred Apple, which is now planning its own foray into original content, according to unnamed sources cited in the Wall Street Journal. Premium original shows and movies will soon be part of the company’s $10-per-month streaming-music service, the sources said, adding that the company aims more to distinguish itself from other audio streaming services such as Spotify than to go up against Netflix and the like. Original scripted content from Apple is expected by late 2017.
The original content gold rush is just one more example of the extent to which tech brands are now treading on each other’s turf. For more on the increasing overlap of technology giants, see Silicon Soup (#17) in The Future 100: Trends and Change to Watch in 2017.