Amazon Is Reportedly Cutting Back On Indie Films

The access battle between the proletarian streaming platforms and exclusive film festivals has raged on since Netflix was booed at Cannes last year, but Amazon Studios has always managed to walk the line. The company would offer the films it acquired on its streaming service, to be sure, but it would also invest in theatrical releases — allowing its fantastic independent films like The Big Sick or The Handmaiden to garner critical acclaim and awards buzz. In the case of The Big Sick, this strategy helped launch the film into being a bonafide box office hit.

In the process, Amazon Studios has become one of the most dependable new media studios in the indie film circuit. But that could soon change. Amazon Studios will reportedly scale back its funding of indie films, shifting its programming strategy to favor commercial hits. And for anyone who has been a fan of the remarkable arthouse films that Amazon has supported in the past few years (Manchester By the SeaThe Salesman, Chi-RaqThe Lost City of ZLove & FriendshipLast Flag Flying, and The Neon Demon), this is a huge bummer.

A new report from Reuters says that the company is shifting its funding away from smaller arthouse films toward big-budget commercial hits. This comes on the heels of Amazon Studios cancelling three of its comedy series, even as the studio has been showered with Golden Globes, Emmys, and Oscars.

But it seems like critical and awards acclaim is not enough. The company is seeking more popular, commercial fare to lure in more subscribers to its streaming and shopping service, Amazon Prime. Reuters writes:

The move reflects a new phase in the online retailer's entertainment strategy. Initially, Amazon worked on high-brow movies that would win awards, put it on the map in Hollywood and help it attract top talent. Now, Amazon wants programming aimed at a far wider audience as it pursues its central business goal: Persuading more people to join its video streaming service and shopping club Prime.

An anonymous source told Reuters that "Amazon expects to go after films with budgets in the $50 million range at the expense of indie projects costing around $5 million." If that's the case, this shift could cost independent films a major studio that supports low-budget films in an industry where the selection is already sparse.

Now, I don't want to blame Bright and the word-of-mouth success that Netflix saw with the glitzy sci-fi feature starring Will Smith and Joel Edgerton, but I wouldn't be surprised if Amazon was looking to replicate Netflix's strategy. Netflix remains Amazon's fiercest competitor in the original content streaming field — in both TV and film — and while Amazon has a bigger handle on the prestige associated with festival and awards favorites, Netflix has the buzz. With Amazon beginning to cut back on its offbeat TV shows and arthouse movies, I could see the studio investing in similar buzzy projects with big stars and bigger budgets. But this shift sadly leaves a hole in the market for major players at film festival bidding wars. With the Sundance Film Festival starting to kick into gear, it's uncertain whether Amazon will have the presence that it has in recent years.