MIPFormats ’17: Amazon looks to take on the world

CANNES – Conquering the formats world may not be Amazon’s immediate intention, but the e-commerce-backed global SVOD has made it clear that it’s definitely serious about the unscripted space with ...
April 2, 2017

CANNES – Conquering the formats world may not be Amazon’s immediate intention, but the e-commerce-backed global SVOD has made it clear that it’s definitely serious about the unscripted space with a strategy emphasizing careful, clever programming that offers audiences, where ever they are in the world, something different than what they can see anywhere else.

“We are really in the time business. We are not thinking about other networks. We’re thinking about how can we give a customer something that they will enjoy spending one hour or more of their time watching out of a busy day. We just want to deliver value for our customers,” said Conrad Riggs, head of unscripted at Amazon Originals, speaking April 1 on a MIPFormats keynote “superpanel” that addressed the question, “Will the U.S. conquer the formats world?”

To that end, Amazon has been cherry picking its slate, with a keen eye on formats that work across its reach in more than 200 countries. For Riggs, that means looking for both global ideas and regional ideas, noting, “We are not producing only American content.”

“If we have a customer in Iceland, we want (him) to care about the show, just like a customer in Mexico,” he said.

Among the upcoming projects from Amazon is a docuseries following tennis star Novak Djokovic (Novak); a series exploring the people and drama behind the Le Mans race (Le Mans: Racing is Everything from New Black Films); a series starring psychologist Dr. Ruth Westheimer based on her upcoming book The Big O in Zero G, exploring sexual intimacy in space; and American Playboy: The Hugh Hefner Story (Stephen David Entertainment and Alta Loma Entertainment), billed as the definitive telling of Hugh Hefner’s life and work in the civil liberties movement; and Propagate Media’s Lore, based on a podcast of same name exploring true stories behind supernatural events.

Riggs said the stories share one thing in common: they give audiences the opportuity to get into worlds they wouldn’t ordinarly see, providing “an honest look at extraordinatory people doing extraordinary things.”

As to what gets the greenlight, Riggs said he’s open to an array of ideas.

“You never know where the next great idea is going to come from.”

Just don’t pitch him a show based on a network hit.

“We have to be very open minded because if you start following the leader, then you just become part of the pack and we are trying to make a statement and do things differently and take risks,” he said.

Also keynoting on the superpanel were Tom Forman, CEO of Critical Content; Paul Buccieri, president of A+E Studios and A+E Networks Portfolio Group, A+E Networks; and Paul Gilbert, SVP of international formats for CBS Studios International.

Forman, whose L.A.-based prodco has been steadily building its unscripted slate since its inception 18 months ago with series such as Catfish: The TV Show and The Case Of: JonBenet Ramsey, didn’t mince words when it came to answering the panel’s over-aching question of U.S. domination in the formats space.

“Probably not,” he said. “But we are going to have a moment. I think there really is the chance to cause some trouble and make some noise and do something big in the U.S. and we do know that once you do that, it is easier to sell in the rest of the world.”

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.