Woody Allen for Amazon Prime: delivering cash, content and credibility

Woody Allen

TV on the internet is now an arms race, and in signing Woody Allen, Amazon Prime has delivered a nuclear blast to the competition

Before today, the idea of Woody Allen making a show for television seemed akin to David Letterman hosting an open mic night in Greenwich Village. But today is a new day, and Amazon has announced in a press release that the famed auteur and director of Annie Hall, Manhattan and Scoop will be making an original program for the Amazon Prime Instant Video streaming service. This just goes to show how far both Allen and television (or whatever it is we’re calling serialised programs on the internet) have come.

It’s not as surprising a move for Allen as it might first appear. He’s had a strange career trajectory over the past few years. He’s released some of the highest grossing films of his career – Midnight in Paris made almost $57m, though adjusted for inflation Annie Hall is still his highest earner – while finding funding has become increasingly difficult. In order to put together the cash for his annual offerings, Allen has more often than not had to make deals in Europe, which means shooting there.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Amazon offered Allen the chance to once again shoot in his beloved New York, which must be very appealing to the 79-year-old director. So, the simple answer to why Woody is doing this is that he followed the money. If he wants to be closer to home, Amazon is one of the few places that can keep him gainfully employed and no doubt throw a ton of cash at him. Allen has never had a hard time recruiting top-notch talent, but being able to give big actors a real paycheck as well as shooting in the US will only add to the allure of making the show for them.

Naturally, this also makes sense for Amazon Prime. On Sunday, the streaming service took home two Golden Globes for its critical darling Transparent (a second season is in the works), and acquiring Allen seems to shout that they’re interested in snatching Netflix’s crown as the buzz-worthy internet home of prestige television. (Someone had better tell Alpha House, Amazon’s first original show, that it needs to step up its game.)

Heading for the prestige route makes absolute sense for Amazon, Netflix, HBO and other subscription-based services. They don’t need to reach he Big Bang Theory’s audience to attract money from advertisers – they just have to have enough shows that are so hyped people will pay money to see them. Hopefully among those shows they’ll end up with a monster hit, like HBO’s Game of Thrones, the perfect storm for a subscription-based business model, where hordes of people will loosen their wallets for the privilege of watching.

Signing Allen to an unprecedented TV deal will not only get Amazon lashings of press attention and copious amounts of legitimacy, it will also cause Allen’s fans to search out the streaming hub (it is very hard to find from Amazon’s cluttered home page) and sign up for the service.

What continues to puzzle me about Amazon Prime is exactly why they’re creating top notch “content”. Does the company plan to turn it into an independent streaming service, where cord-cutters can watch great original shows and top-shelf network repeats? Or is it using these shows as a lure to get people to sign up for express shipping and the other benefits from Amazon’s other legacy products? “Buy next-day shipping and get all of these great TV shows as your free gift!”

The one thing that is for sure is that once Amazon becomes a viable platform, it’s going to give real TV buffs just one more thing they need to shell out money for along with their Netflix and Hulu Plus subscriptions. We’re living in the time of a TV on the internet arms race, and Amazon signing Woody Allen is like a nuclear blast across the other network’s bows.

As for what the series will be about, it’s anyone’s guess at this point. “I don’t know how I got into this. I have no ideas and I’m not sure where to begin,” the self-deprecating Allen said in the press release. Well, I have a feeling that it might focus on a neurotic Jewish New Yorker, but one living in a thoroughly modern age where the best movies are being made on television and where television isn’t on the TV anymore.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Brian Moylan, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 13th January 2015 16.24 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010