Amazon’s television forays a ‘victory’ for content-is-king claim

Irish drama production has already benefited from the interest of the new tech players

Transparent creator Jill Soloway (centre) with cast from the Amazon-funded series

Transparent creator Jill Soloway (centre) with cast from the Amazon-funded series


Amazon Prime has been in the news twice this week, once for picking up two Golden Globes for its comedy show Transparent, and once for signing up Woody Allen to write his first television series.

Amazon Prime, the streaming service of the online retailer, is Jeff Bezos’s equivalent of television-redefiner Netflix, which is also in the business of producing buzzy original content to market itself to potential paying subscribers.

While Transparent has won positive feedback from more than just the Hollywood Foreign Press Association that bestowed on it the best television drama Globe and another for Jeffrey Tambor for best actor in a TV series, opinion has been rather more divided on the Allen announcement. The Guardian said it “delivered a nuclear blast to the competition”, but Vox. com concluded that it represented “everything that’s wrong with the current TV arms race”.

The arms race Vox mentions refers in the first instance to the US entertainment market, where there are 116 million “TV homes”. (For comparative purposes, there are fewer than 1.6 million “TV homes” in the State.) The likes of Netflix and Amazon are well-funded disrupters in a big business, and this has consequences, both good and bad, for the global industry.

For organisations such as the Irish Film Board, it can create opportunities to work with non-traditional funders and distributors of content. Indeed, the Irish film and television production sector was an early beneficiary of the Amazon Prime shilling.

After the BBC axed its drama series Ripper Street, which is filmed in Dublin, the video-on-demand service stepped in and signed a deal with UK production company Tiger Aspect and Ireland’s Element Pictures to fund its third series in exchange for the modest prize of first-run rights.

At the launch of the funding body’s 2015 production catalogue, Irish Film Board chief executive James Hickey was optimistic about the role the big tech companies will continue to play (alongside cable and satellite players such as Showtime, Sky and the History channel).

Netflix and Amazon’s push to make their own shows represents “a real victory” for the argument that it is original content, and not merely owning a technological platform, that is commercially important, he noted.

Hickey, a former entertainment and media lawyer, said he had been listening to people claim for decades that “the technology is everything” and that it alone is what will generate a return. “I would always say ‘I don’t think it’s everything, lads. You need the content.’”

Now if only Netflix would consider shooting some meaty 13-parter here.