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What are Amazon’s Ambitions after Transparent?

Amazon, the largest Internet-based retailer in the United States, recently offered the series Transparent. 

The story is about a middle-aged man who comes out of the closet as a transgender. The ten-part series with Jeffrey Tambor that started in 2014 was renewed for a second season, which will be released in 2015.

The Transparent series is the first show produced by Amazon Studios to win a major award and the first series from a streaming video service to win a Golden Globe for best series. Amazon, led by Vanieff Bezos, engaged Woody Allen and presented six new pilots, including one on the major magazine The New Yorker.

The pilots that survive the ballot will be shown on their streaming video service Amazon Prime Video, in which viewers, for a fixed monthly fee, just like with Netflix, can view unlimited movies and series. The video service is available in the US and some European countries including Germany. Apart from its own productions, Amazon Prime Video also offers purchased titles, including a selection from the stable of HBO, a deal Amazon negotiated last year.

Due to the recent success and the news that none other than Woody Allen is making a series for Amazon, his first drama series ever, the name Amazon acquired a golden edge. Similar to how Netflix became immensely popular with productions like House of Cards, Amazon, a newcomer in this arena, managed to stake its claim with Transparent. Netflix may indeed be careful. According to The New York Times, we should see Amazon as a serious competitor to Netflix.

Whether that success continues, depends partly on the six new pilots. According to the press, these are mostly mainstream series with the remarkable exception of The New Yorker Presents. The famed magazine is shown in episodes of thirty minutes each. No fiction but a classic, paper magazine that translates into reports, interviews, short movies, and documentaries. Noteworthy is also the producer: documentary filmmaker and Oscar winner Alex Gibney from Jigsaw Productions (Taxi to the Dark Side and Park Avenue).

What is the rationale for turning a magazine into television?
Dave Snyder, director of the pilot, says, “Our program is inspired by the magazine, no adaptation or translation of the stories. There is enough place in this world for good articles and beautiful short film magazines. It remains as good as it always was, and with any luck, we are innovative in our own visual medium. Most importantly, we offer top writers and directors the creative freedom they need.”

This is the content of the story, but the business side is that the idea was born out of a number of conversations between Condé Nast Entertainment (the media arm of the publisher of The New Yorker and magazines like Vanity Fair and Vogue), Jigsaw Productions, and Amazon Studios. Snyder formerly published films based on his books, such as Brokeback Mountain. Now dropping the sale of books and magazines, Condé Nast has made alliances with movie- and TV show producers. The idea for a magazine translated to television is not entirely new; rather there are already television productions based on Vanity Fair.

Jigsaw Productions is not the only production entity for The New Yorker. Known Hollywood Directors, like Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs) produced a pilot for a documentary based on an article from The New Yorker, and a short movie with Alan Cumming (The Good Wife, by Troy Miller).

Reviews on The New Yorker Presents are generous. Not everything works perfectly, but the subjects and beautiful design taken from the paper magazine, compensate for much and were consistently praised.

Whether Amazon’s The New Yorker Presents will actually make it to the TV screen, will become apparent this spring.

Tens of millions are forked out for each new series, but Amazon does ample research and spends time on an extensive data analysis of the views and comments of the viewer. Book reviews count, but viewer votes count more.

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