Amazon Buys MGM, Furthers Tech’s Foray Into Hollywood

Sam Blake

Sam primarily covers entertainment and media for dot.LA. Previously he was Marjorie Deane Fellow at The Economist, where he wrote for the business and finance sections of the print edition. He has also worked at the XPRIZE Foundation, U.S. Government Accountability Office, KCRW, and MLB Advanced Media (now Disney Streaming Services). He holds an MBA from UCLA Anderson, an MPP from UCLA Luskin and a BA in History from University of Michigan. Email him at samblake@dot.LA and find him on Twitter @hisamblake

Amazon Buys MGM, Furthers Tech’s Foray Into Hollywood

Ninety-six years after Metro Pictures, Goldwyn Pictures and Louis B. Mayer Pictures merged to form MGM Studios, the Hollywood mainstay best known for its roaring lion mascot is set to join a trillion-dollar business empire best known for selling household items over the internet. Amazon Inc. has acquired MGM for $8.45 billion, the companies said Wednesday.

The move culminates Century City-based MGM's prolonged search for a buyer that has been rumored for over a decade. In 2018, former chief executive Gary Barber was fired just five months after signing a multi-year extension, amid an internal dispute over how the company was handling an entertainment industry being reshaped by streaming. An impersonal "office of the CEO" has since led the studio.

"The real 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," Amazon's senior vice president of Prime Video and Amazon Studios said in a statement.

MGM counts over 4,000 films among its assets, including "Silence of the Lambs," "12 Angry Men," "Rocky" and "Tomb Raider." Its TV shows include "The Handmaid's Tale," "Fargo" and "Vikings" as well as reality series "Survivor," "The Real Housewives" and "Shark Tank." MGM also owns the premier pay-TV channel Epix. The company reportedly earned just shy of $1.5 billion in revenue in its most recent fiscal year.

Amazon inherits these assets, along with the crown jewel that is the James Bond franchise, which will see its 25th installment released this fall with "No Time to Die." That trophy comes with a caveat, however, as MGM has shared copyright of the franchise with the British Wilson/Broccoli family, which retains significant decision-making power over the asset.

The MGM acquisition is Amazon's second-largest, behind the $13.7 billion purchase of Whole Foods in 2017.

The deal is the latest in an increasingly consolidating entertainment industry. Earlier this month, AT&T's WarnerMedia merged with Discovery that essentially completed the telecom company's departure from the entertainment business.

Although outgoing Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has said streaming's main value to his company is that it helps to sell more shoes – Amazon Prime Video is included in Amazon's Prime subscription offering, alongside other perks like free shipping – the company's ambitions in streaming have been substantial. It launched its own studio in Culver City in 2010 and is reportedly spending nearly half a billion dollars to produce the first season of a "Lord of the Rings" TV series. To stream the NFL's Thursday night franchise, it is paying an average of $1.2 billion per year. The company also operates ad-supported service IMDB TV.

Most analysts agree the average consumer wants to pay for no more than four or five streaming subscriptions. Netflix and Disney have separated themselves from the pack, and recently locked up most of Sony, one of the few remaining arms dealers, in a long-term licensing deal.

Though Amazon's precise streaming ambitions within its sprawling empire are unclear, insiders consider its track record of producing hits out of its in-house studio relatively uninspiring. A new looming threat created by the Warner-Discovery deal likely added urgency within Amazon to make a move.

The deal remains subject to regulatory approval. Amazon was sued earlier this week by the attorney general for Washington, D.C., for abusing its market power in its online marketplace.

The other contestants in the streaming war may not wait for regulatory resolution before opting to make a move of their own. ViacomCBS, which runs Paramount Plus, and Comcast's NBCUniversal, which runs Peacock, are both falling behind. Recent calls out of COVID-embattled Japan to cancel this year's Tokyo Olympic Games are worrying to NBC, which owns rights to the Games and has long harbored plans to use them to Peacock's benefit.

Apple, which like Amazon is a deep-pocketed, tech-first company that has forayed into streaming but lacks a clearly defined entertainment strategy, also remains in the mix.

MGM's $8.45 billion price tag equates to about 40% of Amazon's 2020 operating profit and just over half a percent of its $1.64 trillion market cap–over seven times the size of Netflix's and five times the size of Disney's.

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