Amazon in talks to fund movies

Amazon held exploratory talks with executives at Sony's studio division and Viacom's Paramount Pictures.
Amazon held exploratory talks with executives at Sony's studio division and Viacom's Paramount Pictures.PHOTO: REUTERS

LOS ANGELES • Amazon.com, looking for ways to offer more films on its streaming service, discussed co-financing movies with at least two major Hollywood studios in exchange for certain online rights, according to people familiar with the matter.

The company held exploratory talks with executives at Sony's studio division and Viacom's Paramount Pictures, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are at an early stage.

The options included development funds, as well as money for film production, said one of the people.

Obtaining more movies from the studios would help Amazon attract viewers to its streaming service, which trails Netflix in popularity.

The online retailer will spend more than US$5 billion (S$6.8 billion) on video programming this year, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.

Sony, in fifth place at the box office this year, releases the Spider-Man movies and had successes with the animated films Peter Rabbit (2018) and Hotel Transylvania 3: A Monster Vacation (2018).

Paramount, last among the major studios in market share, has had two major hits - A Quiet Place (2018) and Mission: Impossible - Fallout (2018).

It is not clear what rights Amazon could obtain.

The premium cable network Starz, owned by Lions Gate Entertainment, has a contract to show Sony films for years after they leave theatres in a deal that runs through at least 2021, while the cable channel Epix, owned by MGM Holdings, has a similar accord for Paramount movies.

Amazon and Sony have worked together before.

For both Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle (2017) and more recently Hotel Transylvania 3, Sony allowed Amazon Prime customers to see the movies in theatres before their nationwide release.

Amazon is in the middle of rebooting its Los Angeles-based studio, which has produced a number of critically acclaimed projects but few blockbusters.

Deals with other producers offer a way to increase the volume of high-end movies the service can offer.

The Seattle-based company hired NBC executive Jennifer Salke in February to lead Amazon Studios. Mr Jason Ropell, head of the company's film effort, left shortly after.

Netflix scored a coup when it secured rights to Walt Disney films like Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Star Wars.

But Disney, now viewing Netflix as a threat, is launching its own streaming services and has said it will not renew that deal when their contract expires at the end of the year.

Money from Amazon would help Sony and Paramount reduce the financial risks associated with movie-making.

While some studios do not take co-financiers, Sony and Paramount do and, last year, both had deals end or fall through. Sony's deal with LStar Capital was ended and possible funding for Paramount from Chinese investors failed to materialise.

Outside funding in Hollywood has become more scarce, with the pullback by Chinese investors and the exit of long-time financiers including now United States Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Australian billionaire James Packer.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 06, 2018, with the headline 'Amazon in talks to fund movies'. Print Edition | Subscribe