Tasked with leading the studio of a trillion-dollar company is no easy task. Jennifer Salke was named the head of Amazon Studios, a unit of Amazon.com Inc AMZN, in 2018. Salke is the focus of a cover story from Variety that shares insights into Amazon’s strategy for television and movies.
What Happened: In a cover story titled “Jennifer Salke harnesses the power of Tolkien to energize Amazon Studios,” Salke shares her thoughts on the company’s progress with “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” and what’s next.
Salke recounted the premiere of “The Rings of Power” and the team analyzing the early data from Amazon’s consumer research department.
“There was just this adrenalized excitement that, after four and a half years, we were actually letting people see the show,” Salke said.
Salke said the team wanted to make sure the streaming platform did not crash, as other streaming platforms have done for releases of popular content.
The head of Amazon Studios joined the company after positions with 20th Century Fox and NBC. Arriving in 2018, Salke came in shortly after Amazon Studios paid $250 million for the rights to the Lord of the Rings.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has been pleased with the work Salke has done.
“Jen is an inspiring leader who’s built an amazing team and transformed Amazon Studios and Prime Video into a marquee destination for talent, creators and elevated storytelling,” Bezos told Variety. “Her willingness to take big swings is matched by her good judgment and creative taste.”
Salke said Bezos and others rallied around winning the rights to the Tolkien content.
“Bezos is a huge fan of Tolkien and has a great knowledge of the lore. The whole idea of why we got the rights to begin with was to tell the story of good versus evil – of people coming together from all different worlds to fight evil, really,” Salke added.
Salke said Bezos “loves this show” and is proud of it.
“The Rings of Power” premiered right around the time a rival streaming platform, HBO Max from Warner Bros. Discovery WBD launched “House of the Dragon.”
Salke's goal was to create a show that used Tolkien content and pleased fans of the prior works. The Amazon Studios head also wanted to make the content a bit lighter than the “Game of Thrones” storyline from HBO.
“If you’re old enough to read the books, you’re old enough to watch the show,” Salke said. “We knew from the beginning that this was not our ‘Game of Thrones.’”
Salke said fans begged Amazon not to include “sex and provocative violence” in the show, which could go against the stories Tolkien originally told.
Amazon has not announced viewership for “The Rings of Power,” but some point to Amazon leading the way in terms of viewership on streaming platforms.
“We’re cresting toward 100 million customers having watched it so… It’s a big number,” Salke said.
What’s Next: While “The Rings of Power” has generated strong viewership, Salke calls this the early days of the project.
Amazon Studios committed to five seasons of “The Rings of Power” when it signed a $250 million rights deal with the Tolkien estate in 2017.
The finale of season 1 of “The Rings of Power” will air on Amazon Prime on Oct. 14.
“The Rings of Power” has been called the most expensive show ever made, with a production budget of $400 million to $500 million, a number that Salke wouldn’t confirm.
“We’re building infrastructure for five seasons. We’re building a small city. We were always going to spend what we needed to spend to get it right.”
Salke called the production budget money well spent.
The Amazon Studios head said the production team is working on season 2, but stopped short of confirming it will be released in 2023.
“We’re going to get that out into the world as soon as we can. We want the shortest time possible between seasons, but we want to keep the bar just as high.”
Along with the continued success of shows like “The Rings of Power,” “The Boys” and the viewership figures of "Thursday Night Football," Salke is also tasked with integrating the content from MGM Studios, which Amazon acquired for $8.5 billion, into the Amazon brand.
Salke said the acquisition will see Amazon invest more into movies.
“You’ll see more fluidity between theatrical and streaming options for films.”
AMZN Price Action: Amazon shares were down 0.12% at $120.95 on Wednesday, versus a 52-week trading range of $101.26 to $188.11.
Photo: Courtesy of amazonstudios.com
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