Amazon just bought movie and TV studio MGM for $8.45 billion, in a massive content grab that could see Amazon Prime getting a big boost to its library. The headline grabber here is James Bond, which gives Amazon a long-running film series of its own, something to compete with Disney Plus (Star Wars, Marvel movies).
A bit of history first, MGM was created in 1924 from the merger of Metro Pictures, Goldwyn Pictures and Lous B. Mayer Pictures. It’s famous for its roaring lion, portrayed in fact by eight different lions, the most recent called Leo. However the current roaring big cat is a computer generated model, based on Leo. It’s really good and you’re supposed to have seen it in front of the new Bond movie, but that's delayed so MGM has it on its YouTube channel.
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Back in the ‘80s financial trouble pushed MGM to sell its prestigious movie library to Ted Turner’s Time Warner. That means classics like The Wizard of Oz and Singin’ in the Rain no longer belong to MGM. However it does own Robocop and a bunch of other stuff it picked up acquiring libraries from Orion Pictures which produced Dances with Wolves and The Silence of the Lambs.
And back to Bond for a second, MGM co-produces the Bond movies with the franchise owners Eon Productions (which complicates things enormously for this particular franchise).
MGM also bought PolyGram’s library of movies, numbering around 1,300 and including Four Weddings and a Funeral and Candyman, which is getting a reboot later this year.
Why did Amazon buy MGM?
MGM owns the rights to over 4,000 movies and 17,000 hours of TV. This could add significant amounts of content to Amazon Prime over the coming years. Some of that content may currently be licenced to other broadcasters and streamers, which creates problems moving the content to Amazon until those deals expire.
The Handmaid’s Tale and Vikings are both MGM productions that already reside on Amazon’s streaming platform (Handmaid’s is on Hulu in the US) and there’s almost certainly the potential to use the experience at MGM to create more original content for Prime Video. It also co-produces Fargo with FX.
MGM also owns the two production companies founded by TV producer Mark Burnett (the current head of MGM Television Group). That brings under Amazon’s ownership shows like Survivor and The Voice. It also owns America’s Top Dog.
Amazon’s purchase makes more sense the more time you think about the content it just got.
Here’s a big advantage for Amazon. If MGM has titles that are ripe for being rebooted, revived or remade then Amazon will have a potentially huge collection of TV and movies that it can build new content from.
One of those potential new shows would be Stargate, which has long been rumored to be returning to TV for a new series. Amazon now owns SG-1, Atlantis, Universe and those terrible internet shorts.
And while Stargate is not quite an untapped cash cow, Amazon already offers MGM TV as an add-on subscription through Prime Video. This service offers access to MGM’s TV library and Amazon may have data that suggests there’s a lot of money to be made from the back catalogue of shows.
Gateworld has stories that suggest Stargate veteran Amanda Tapping has already been approached to be involved in directing and starring in the show in some capacity. And Brad Wright, who created the TV shows, has been talking for some time about a new series. With The Expanse about to end its run at the end of the next season Amazon might be hungry for a new sci-fi show.
Maybe it will move the MGM TV subscription into Prime, or perhaps it will continue to offer those shows as an extra and enjoy the additional revenue.
The James Bond problem
While MGM’s roaring lion is famously attached to James Bond films, the studio doesn’t own the rights to the franchise. Instead, that property is controlled by Eon Productions, which is a privately-owned business which exists entirely to make money from James Bond. Founded in 1962 by Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman it’s now controlled by Broccoli’s daughter, Barbara and Michael G. Wilson.
The rights for Bond are almost ludicrously complicated. It has, in the recent past, involved Sony — hence the almost unbelievable amount of Sony equipment in Daniel Craig’s movies — and 20th Century Fox. MGM does have the home entertainment distribution rights, however it’s noted by Variety that Eon has an unusual amount of control over what happens to Bond. So don’t expect 20 spin-off TV shows any time soon.
However it does seem likely that Bond, which doesn't currently have a streaming home, could end up being available on Amazon as a result of this deal. That's great news for fans looking to watch the Bond movies in order.
Amazon is now in a better position to fight the streaming war against the likes of Netflix, Disney Plus and the rest. It makes you wonder, though, if Netflix will counter. Will someone try and buy Sony Pictures Entertainment outright? Some interesting food for thought for the coming months.
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Ian has been involved in technology journalism since 2007, originally writing about AV hardware back when LCDs and plasma TVs were just gaining popularity. Nearly 15 years on, he remains as excited as ever about how tech can make your life better. Ian is the editor of T3.com but has also regularly contributed to Tom's Guide.