People/Biz

RSS Lite ’22: Jennifer Salke discusses Amazon Studios’ unscripted strategy

Reflecting on her role as head of Amazon Studios during a keynote conversation for Realscreen Summit Lite, Jennifer Salke told delegates her vision for the service is similar to the best ...
February 10, 2022

Reflecting on her role as head of Amazon Studios during a keynote conversation for Realscreen Summit Lite, Jennifer Salke told delegates her vision for the service is similar to the best aspects of older Hollywood studios, envisioning an environment where artists can thrive and find a home.

That idea informs the philosophy that she says drives Amazon’s approach, which focuses on strong talent and ideas.

“It all comes down to the talent and who’s executing the content. You can’t order hits,” Salke told her interviewer, longtime friend and Intuitive Content principal and executive producer Andrew Zimmern.

As the head of Amazon Studios, Salke oversees all aspects of TV and film development, as well as production, for Amazon’s global entertainment division. Prior to Amazon, Salke worked as president of NBC Entertainment, overseeing comedy and drama development, current programming, casting and diversity programming initiatives.

On Tuesday, Salke discussed Amazon Studios’ growing unscripted strategy, which is currently in a stage of catering to and testing a variety of genres. She noted that Amazon has produced or licensed prestige, speciality and music documentaries, as well as livestreams with artists, unscripted docuseries, sports series, competition series and repeatable formats that have travelled to different regions.

“For us, it’s always going to be about the content… what is the idea, how does it capture our imagination so we know our customers are going to lean into it and be excited about it, and then we lean in,” Salke said.

She added that Amazon is looking to expand to even more genres due to the success they’ve seen in unscripted thus far, including looking into lifestyle series. But she also emphasized that the growth in the unscripted space will come over time, and recommended that producers exhibit “patience” when it comes to seeing how it evolves.

The company’s expansion into a variety of genres, in order to appeal to a broad audience, is similar to how it developed its scripted film content, Salke said. Initially, Amazon Studios was successful in producing critically acclaimed prestige films such as Manchester by the Sea and The Big Sick. But since Salke joined the company, it has expanded to produce more commercial films as well, while still producing acclaimed, Oscar-nominated work.

This encompasses a multi-faceted approach to producing, commissioning and licensing content, with the goal of moving the needle for Prime subscribers globally, Salke said. She emphasized as well that even when acquiring content she doesn’t look at picking up titles as transactional, adding that Amazon wants to be hands-on and ensure that it’s providing a positive environment for talent.

Salke praised Amazon for being a “flat organization” that encourages people to take initiative and ownership of their work, as opposed to working in strict hierarchies. She noted the company has been open to finding potential hits from all around the world, with titles that can travel with international appeal.

“I do believe that a hit can come from anywhere,” Salke said. “I feel like a big hit show that breaks through culturally and defines the company can happen in many circumstances across the board.”

Salke was the second keynote of the week at the conference after filmmaker Stanley Nelson, who accepted the Realscreen Legacy Award earlier in the week.

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 HMV.com. 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.

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