When Amazon announced its plans to acquire MGM in May, the primary focus of discussion was what Amazon planned to do with the studio’s intellectual property. Spin-offs and reboots were one possibility cited by the company at the time. Who, it’s now worth wondering, will shepherd Amazon’s creative vision for the legacy movie-maker?
A new profile published this week in the New York Times on the creative brain trust behind the MGM brand offers a few clues about how the acquisition may look moving forward. Namely, it profiled Michael De Luca and Pamela Abdy, two of MGM’s top brass who have tasked themselves with reinvigorating the MGM brand. Key to their strategy, as De Luca described it to the Times, is “treating the filmmakers like the franchise.” Both seem to value high-caliber theatrical releases over the straight-to-streaming content churn.
But their approach to pumping blood back into MGM’s decaying legacy seems to counter Amazon’s own vision for the studio. Mike Hopkins, senior vice president of Prime Video and Amazon Studios, said in a statement at the time the acquisition was announced that the “financial value behind this deal is the treasure trove of IP in the deep catalog that we plan to reimagine and develop together with MGM’s talented team. It’s very exciting and provides so many opportunities for high-quality storytelling.”
MGM’s library may offer some potential for franchise spinoffs, sure — primarily with future Bond films and potentially IP like Legally Blonde, and Rocky. (Though it’s worth noting that MGM does not outright own the Bond IP, which may or may not have eluded Amazon executives hoping to wring the franchise dry.) Yet its strength has always seemed to be more in the overall brand and talent. Amazon’s desire to own IP feels as if it operates counter to that reality, and De Luca and Abdy seem particularly aware of that.
“Mike and I did not sit down and say let’s raid the library and remake everything,” Abdy told the Times of the pair’s creative roadmap. “Our focus is original ideas with original authorship and real filmmakers, but you know every once in a while something will come up that’s fun and we’ll pursue it if we think it makes sense.”
The specifics of this deal immediately call to mind the acquisition of Time Warner, which included the HBO haul of award-winning films and series, by AT&T, which has since decided that maybe this whole streaming thing wasn’t the move after all — even despite having valuable IP in properties like DC and award-winning content like Game of Thrones, The Wire, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and countless other hit titles. CEO John Stankey said in May at the time the Discovery and WarnerMedia merger was announced that it was “time to unleash the media assets” it had gobbled up and spun into HBO Max — but not before prompting a mass exodus of company executives, most visibly HBO boss Richard Plepler, who had been with the company for nearly three decades and helped HBO scoop up numerous awards and accolades. He’s now producing content for Apple TV Plus.
Any division among company executives for how an MGM and Amazon merger should look moving forward is its own can of worms. The deal also still requires government approval, and it’s reportedly being reviewed by a Federal Trade Commission run by one of Amazon’s biggest antitrust critics, Lina Khan. The merger has also won the ire of several lawmakers, including Senator Elizabeth Warren, who in a recent letter to Khan said the acquisition “could harm consumers and workers and reduce innovation by inhibiting competition in numerous markets.”
Should the deal secure government approval and move forward unscathed, Amazon may face new challenges in tapping the rich library of legacy franchises unchecked. Unlike AT&T, it will almost certainly be forced to find common ground with the current creative heads of the studio it’s attempting to buy, at least where MGM’s most valuable IP is concerned.
Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, who maintain creative control of the Bond franchise, told the Times in a statement that their “hope is that [Amazon] will empower Mike and Pam to continue to run MGM unencumbered.” The pair additionally told the Times that they had Amazon’s word that the Bond films would continue to premiere in theaters, meaning that the company wouldn’t be able to churn out films that premiere exclusively on its streaming service Prime Video, which makes the logistics of this deal even more confounding.
We’ve yet to see how Amazon’s content ambitions for MGM will play out and how the studio’s IP may shape the company’s Prime Video streaming service in the future. But its stated plan to “reimagine and develop” titles may prove more challenging than it had initially anticipated.