Amazon could make history in Hollywood on Sunday night. Its original film, 'Manchester by the Sea,' is nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Winning the final award of the evening would mark the first time a streaming service has taken home the industry’s top prize.
“Manchester by the Sea is a real breakthrough event at the Oscars. And it’s a fantastic film,” Hollywood Agent Peter Benedek, co-founder of United Talent Agency, told BNN in a television interview.
An Oscar win could shift some of the industry’s attention away from rival streaming service Netflix, which is equally ambitious. Netflix and Amazon are collectively nominated for 10 Oscars, compared with zero just four years ago. “The new players love the hardware because it really makes them look like they are serious players in the game,” Benedek noted.
While Amazon has been a big seller of Hollywood films since its early days as an online retailer, it now creates original content to entice online customers to sign up for its Amazon Prime service. Prime charges an annual fee for unlimited, two-day shipping on all items. That fee includes access to Prime Video, a Netflix-like service with some of Amazon’s original shows, as well as licensed TV and movie programming.
Amazon Studios, which produces Amazon’s original programming, launched in November 2010. Amazon initially pitched filmmakers to submit projects by offering US$2.7 million in prize money to the winners. Since then, its approach has more closely resembled that of traditional film buyers. It paid US$10 million to acquire the rights to “Manchester by the Sea” at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, following a bidding war with studios including Sony Pictures Classics, Fox Searchlight, Lionsgate and Universal. Netflix has also used the film festival circuit to make inroads. It paid a reported US$12 million to acquire the war drama “Beasts of No Nation” at the 2015 Toronto Film Festival. That film failed to receive any Oscar nominations.
Netflix and Amazon have taken slightly different paths in how they distribute original films on their platforms. Netflix has championed “Day-and-Date” releases, with films being available on Netflix and in theaters at the same time. Amazon has largely focused on making its films available in theaters first with help from theatrical distributors. “Manchester by the Sea” was released in theaters by distributor Roadside Attractions in the U.S. and Mongrel Media in Canada prior to its availability on Amazon Prime.