On the heels of the news that AT&T is dumping WarnerMedia on Discovery comes the news that Amazon is in talks to buy MGM (you can read an un-paywalled version of the story here). It was always inevitable that Amazon would buy out a studio—as it is inevitable that they will soon buy a theater chain—and MGM is about as good a fit as they could wish for. MGM has been in financial trouble for years and years, including a bankruptcy in the early 2010s, so Amazon can buy it for the relative bargain of sub-$10 billion, which is at least two billion less than they spent on developing original content last year. They would also acquire the film rights to The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, through MGM subsidiary United Artists, which would pair nicely with Amazon’s upcoming LOTR show (they previously acquired the TV rights from the Tolkien estate). And they would get one of the most celebrated historic film libraries in Hollywood to beef Amazon Prime, which would gain titles like The Wizard of Oz, Ben-Hur, Gone With the Wind, West Side Story, Platoon, and Silence of the Lambs.
Then there is the franchise jewel in MGM’s crown: James Bond. The rights to Bond are messy, so Amazon wouldn’t get 007 lock, stock, and barrel. They would get a 50% stake in Bond, which includes the back catalog, but the Daniel Craig Bond films are shared with Columbia, and Universal has a stake in international distribution. But since Amazon is lackadaisical about theatrical exhibition, I can see a path whereby they let other distributors release future Bond films theatrically, as long as Amazon gets exclusive worldwide streaming rights. That’s the part they’re really after, anyway. Given everything else that comes with MGM, and the relatively cheap price tag, partial rights ownership of Bond is worth it.
This is not a done deal, though there had been long-standing rumors that MGM was exploring sale options, and Amazon was an obvious candidate to buy them since Amazon has all the money in the universe to play with. But it does mean the stakes in the ongoing IP arms race continue to rise, which means it’s only a matter of time before Apple buys a studio, too. No one has time to build a studio from the ground up, not when Disney has a hundred-year head start and Netflix is a solid decade ahead of everyone else, too. If Amazon buys MGM, not only do they get that historic library for streaming, but they will also get an immediate production boost. Right now, Amazon relies heavily on acquisitions and producing partners to build their slate. But those arrangements mean they don’t own things outright. With their own studio, though, and the established development, production, and distribution mechanisms that come with it, they wouldn’t need so many co-producing deals. They could own more of their output outright, as they do with their upcoming LOTR series. Sure, it’s ludicrously expensive. But whatever windfall it generates belongs solely to Amazon.
Deals like this will keep coming. I fully expect to hear that Apple is buying a studio sooner rather than later—the question is just which one—and next year will bring a mad rush to gobble up theater chains once the Paramount Decree is dead. Consolidation is the industry standard now, for better or worse (worse). Sometimes, the deals will make a degree of sense, like Amazon, who wants to be in the business of everything anyway, buying a movie studio that shores up its streaming prospects and boosts its original production capabilities. Sometimes, the deals will not make sense, like AT&T buying Time Warner only to almost immediately dump it on a network of cable channels. The best we can hope for as consumers, as an audience, and as cinephiles is that the films and artists we love don’t get lost in the shuffle of “content”.