Saturday 22 July 2017

Amazon passes screen test to beat Netflix to Oscars first

Casey Affleck in Oscar-nominated 'Manchester by the Sea'
Casey Affleck in Oscar-nominated 'Manchester by the Sea'

Anousha Sakoui

Amazon's strategy of sticking to Hollywood's time-honoured traditions helped deliver a big payoff that has so far eluded its streaming rival Netflix - the first-ever best picture nomination for an online video service.

'Manchester by the Sea', a family tragedy set in Massachusetts, has been nominated for best picture by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences - one of nine films that will vie for the top honour. The film secured six Oscar nominations in all, including ones for acting, writing and directing.

While Netflix, the streaming leader with almost 94 million subscribers worldwide, has upended entertainment industry traditions, Amazon.com has played more by Hollywood's rules. In the movie business, that means giving motion pictures a serious run in cinemas, rather than releasing them simultaneously online, as Netflix often does.

"They would both like Oscar glory, all the studios do," said Jeff Bock, senior box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations, an industry researcher.

When Amazon buys a movie, Bock said, it comes with the vow the film will have a long run in cinemas before showing up on the company's video service, a concession to directors and others who make their movies with big screens in mind. That means at least a month, the company has said.

"That isn't the case with Netflix right now," Bock said.

Seattle-based Amazon acquired 'Manchester by the Sea' for $10m (€9.3m) a year ago at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. The film stars Casey Affleck as a janitor who returns to his hometown to look after his nephew following the death of his brother. But he struggles to cope with his own tragedy. Michelle Williams and Lucas Hedges are nominated for their supporting roles, while Kenneth Lonergan was nominated for his directing and writing. Roadside Attractions distributed the movie in US cinemas.

The world's largest online retailer, Amazon uses movies and TV shows to attract and keep customers. Its Prime members, who pay $99 (€92) a year for delivery discounts and media streaming, are more likely to stick around on the site and spend more than those who don't subscribe. Video watchers are also more inclined to renew their Prime memberships.

In April, Amazon introduced a standalone Prime Video service featuring on-demand access to thousands of movies and Amazon originals for $8.99 (€8.36) a month. In all, Prime had about 65 million members in the US at the end of September, up 38pc from a year earlier, according to Consumer Intelligence Research Partners in Chicago, which surveys Amazon shoppers.

Amazon's embrace by the movie industry stands in contrast to its years of feuding with book publishers and authors, who maintain that the company's low prices have undermined their industry. Most recently, that's been with electronic books priced far below printed material.

Netflix is the world's largest paid video service. The California-based streaming pioneer spent $6bn (€5.5bn) on TV shows and movies last year and has won both Emmys and Academy Awards, including Oscars for best documentary. Amazon spent $3bn (€2.7bn) , according to estimates from Cowen & Co.

Netflix also just registered its best quarter ever. The company added seven million subscribers in the final three months of 2016 and 19 million for the year. (Bloomberg)

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