Why Amazon Says It Doesn’t Care ‘What Netflix Is Doing’

Streaming service focuses on quality

Headshot of Jason Lynch

Amazon's streaming video service—part of Amazon Prime—may lag far behind Netflix when it comes to popularity, but CEO Jeff Bezos' company says it cares more about the quality of the shows than the number of people who watch them.

At the Television Critics Association's summer press tour in Los Angeles, Amazon laid out its strategy for the rest of the year, which includes the return of its signature series, Transparent. Execs also talked about how the service has carved out a niche in an overcrowded marketplace. 

"None of us are up here trying to make anyone's third-favorite show," said Joe Lewis, Amazon's head of comedy. "Internally, we talk about the quality of the shows a hundred times more than we talk about the numbers."

Morgan Wandell, Amazon's head of drama, said creating shows that no one else is making—like Transparent or its upcoming drama The Man in the High Castle— "is more important than what Netflix is doing."

Amazon hopes to build momentum this fall by releasing one new series each month, including the drama Hand of God on Sept. 4, comedy Red Oaks on Oct. 9, The Man in the High Castle on Nov. 20, Transparent's second season on Dec. 4, and the second season of Mozart in the Jungle in January.

And despite Woody Allen's continued statements that he regrets signing a deal to create a new Amazon series, Amazon Studios director Roy Price said all systems are go for Allen's show. "I was with Woody on Friday. The scripts for Season 1 are just about done," said Price, adding that production will begin in December or January and the show will debut in the second half of 2016.

Price also downplayed any potential controversy with the series, given the sexual abuse allegations that resurface every time Allen has a new project. "Woody Allen is one of the greatest filmmakers America has ever produced," said Price. "You have to take everything into account, but our focus is on the fact that he is a great filmmaker and storyteller."

Amazon Studios similarly dismissed concerns over getting into business with Jeremy Clarkson, the controversial former host of BBC's Top Gear, for a new auto-themed show. "I think there's a lot to focus on other than that," Price said. "We're bullish about the show."

While neither Allen nor Clarkson were in attendance (they'll be subject to grilling when the calendar draws closer to the debuts of their respective series), the other Amazon show creators and actors on hand raved about the creative freedom they're enjoying on the streaming service versus more traditional outlets.

"For women, there's always that thing on network television of the 'likability factor,' and that's something Amazon has never mentioned," said Hand of God star Dana Delaney.

"It is so far and above—superior—the material they give," added Jennifer Grey, who appears in Amazon's Red Oaks. "They're basically answering to no one except themselves. …They have insane taste."

The only issue, apparently, is that even the actors' families don't understand how to access the shows. "The hardest part is explaining to my 80-year-old mother-in-law how she can watch it," said Paul Reiser, who also stars in Red Oaks.

David Zucker and Frank Spotnitz, the producers of The Man in the High Castle, said they spent nine years trying to launch an adaptation of Philip K. Dick's 1962 novel, which imagines a world in which the Allies lost World War II. Both BBC and Syfy developed it and ultimately passed on it, before Amazon swooped in just as their option on the book was about to expire.

Amazon made the pilot available in January, and the show has been streamed more than any pilot on the service. It is also the best reviewed. (This is as close as Amazon gets to releasing ratings details; though the service also revealed that its detective series Bosch is the most-watched Amazon Prime show this year.)

While Amazon's new shows will try to make a splash this fall, the pressure is also on Transparent to follow up on its critically acclaimed debut season, where it won two Golden Globes, including for Best Comedy, and was nominated for 11 Emmys.

"I think about how much has changed in the past year, and it's mind-blowing," said the show's creator, Jill Soloway, referring to a culture that "has caught up to Trans 101," thanks to people like Caitlyn Jenner. Soloway has added a trans writer (Our Lady J) and a trans director (Silas Howard) to the staff this season.

But the "mind-blowing" description can also apply to Amazon itself, which in essence did not exist as an outlet for television content just two years ago. Since then, Amazon has commissioned 49 pilots, 17 of which became series. 

@jasonlynch jason.lynch@adweek.com Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.