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Economy

Amazon To Acquire Hollywood Movie Studio MGM

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Today, Amazon bought a movie studio. It paid nearly $8.5 billion for the 97-year-old MGM. And it's getting a lot more than James Bond and Rambo and Clarice Starling, it's also getting the "Housewives," Offred from "The Handmaid's Tale" and reality TV king Mark Burnett. For more on all of this, we're joined now by NPR TV critic Eric Deggans.

Hey, Eric.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Hi.

CHANG: So tell us why Amazon would want to buy MGM. Like, what exactly is it getting for $8.5 billion?

DEGGANS: (Laughter) Yeah, a little more than a seaside getaway, I guess.

CHANG: (Laughter).

DEGGANS: You know, MGM, as you know, has a lot of movies. It's got 4,000 films, including "Silence Of The Lambs" and you mentioned James Bond. They've got 17,000 TV titles, TV shows. And it just seems...

CHANG: Wow.

DEGGANS: ...Like a further signal that Amazon isn't seeing its originals TV business as a boutique effort. They're serious about this. And at a time when streaming services really need to get bigger to really compete, they're pumping some major money into Amazon Prime Video, which you can only access if you subscribe to Amazon Prime. And it's known that CEO and founder Jeff Bezos has been pressuring the TV side to create bigger hits.

CHANG: Oh, like the "Lord Of The Rings" prequel that Amazon announced - what? - a few years ago?

DEGGANS: Exactly. They spent almost a half a billion dollars on the first season of that production. And the idea is to use these big TV hits to pull people into Amazon Prime memberships. It fuels something that Bezos has called the flywheel effect, where customers come in to Amazon Prime Video for streaming content, and then they wind up using Amazon Prime to buy other things from the company. And they're trying to reduce the churn that sometimes happens when people come in and they sample a streaming service, and then they go somewhere else.

CHANG: Right. Well, how significant are MGM's TV holdings? Like, could they provide the kind of huge hit that Bezos is looking for?

DEGGANS: I mean, it's tough to know. They've got a lot of interesting intellectual property that could be converted into streaming TV shows. But for example, the Broccoli family, which still controls the direction of the James Bond franchise, hasn't really allowed a TV or streaming spinoff in the way that "Star Wars" spun off "The Mandalorian" for Disney+.

Now, one unknown here is Mark Burnett. He's the executive producer of hit reality TV shows like "Survivor," "The Voice" and "The Apprentice." Now, he's chairman of MGM Television right now. And even though he's not really seen as somebody who's responsible for their scripted hits, I think the company hoped that he would develop unscripted hits for them. And because MGM also has the archives and outtakes of "The Apprentice" TV show, which starred our former president, Donald Trump, there's some questions about whether Jeff Bezos, who has had his conflicts with Trump...

CHANG: Right.

DEGGANS: ...Might have access to long-rumored outtakes showing Trump saying sexist and racist things on "The Apprentice." And late-night host Stephen Colbert even joked about it last night. Let's check it out.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT")

STEPHEN COLBERT: Holy mother of DVD extras - the private footage of a TV billionaire is going to belong to an actual billionaire. Bezos could release it all on Amazon Prime as the follow-up to "Fleabag."

DEGGANS: And then he said a phrase that we can't really say on the radio (laughter).

CHANG: I imagine. All right. Well, all of this sounds like a whole lot of media consolidation. Do you think it'll be an issue with federal regulators?

DEGGANS: Well, my hunch is that Amazon's going to cite all its other competitors in streaming TV like Apple and Netflix and Disney+ to say that there's going to be lots of competition. It already owns a studio that makes TV shows and films. But it's telling that Amazon won't predict when this deal might close or speculate much on how they're going to incorporate MGM's film and TV assets into the current setup on Amazon Prime Video.

CHANG: That is NPR TV critic Eric Deggans.

Thank you, Eric.

DEGGANS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF BONOBO'S "CIRRUS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.