Amazon said it will produce a multi-season series that explores new storylines preceding author J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Fellowship of the Ring," which is the first installment in the fantasy trilogy. The deal reportedly includes a potential spin-off series as well. Although Amazon did not reveal how much it was paying for the rights, it is believed to be the company's biggest and most expensive move yet to draw viewers to its streaming and shopping club Amazon Prime.
"Amazon Prime heads to Middle Earth," Chief Executive Jeff Bezos said in a Twitter post, referring to Tolkien's fantasy world.
Amazon says it acquired the rights directly from the Tolkien Estate and Trust. Slated to debut exclusively on Prime Video, the series will be produced by Amazon Studios in cooperation with the estate, HarperCollins publishers and New Line Cinema, a division of Warner Brothers Entertainment, Amazon said in a news release.
"The Lord of the Rings is a cultural phenomenon that has captured the imagination of generations of fans through literature and the big screen," said Sharon Tal Yguado, head of scripted series at Amazon Studios.
The movie trilogy from the early 2000s, filmed in New Zealand by director Peter Jackson, garnered nearly $3 billion (€2.5 billion) at the box office and bagged a total of 17 Academy Awards.
Change in direction for Amazon
The series underscores a shift in Amazon's video programming. Its studios started in 2010 with a focus on unique shows, such as "Transparent," which deals with a father coming out as transgender to his family. Though it attracted great reviews it did not result in a hike in Amazon Prime subscribers, at least not in all of its target audiences around the world.
Amazon is now looking for a dramatic show that could become a hit globally, much like HBO's popular fantasy series "Game of Thrones."
But the company is up against some steep competition, with Netflix, Hulu and other streaming platforms and premium TV services also bidding to keep viewers entertained with high quality content.
"Amazon is committed to producing super high quality, recognized, branded entertainment," said Wedbush Securities industry analyst Michael Pachter. "That's a departure from shows like 'Transparent' and 'Catastrophe.' By definition this will be expensive," he added.
Yet Amazon appears to justify its spending on programming as a way to draw new sign-ups to Prime, whose members not only enjoy the video service, but also buy more goods more often from the world's largest online retailer.
ss/eg (dpa, Reuters)