Amazon is going to have to sell a lot of stuff to pay for its proposed TV series based on The Lord of the Rings.
Reuters has acquired internal documents about Amazon's business strategy regarding its Amazon Prime video streaming platform, where the online retailer has debuted original content like The Man in the High Castle and where the untitled Middle-earth project — a prequel set before the time of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings — will eventually make its debut.
In those documents, it's stated that Amazon paid $250 million for the rights to author J.R.R. Tolkien's source material alone, and may well spend $500 million in total — or even more — over two seasons, with production and marketing factored in.
Compare that to Peter Jackson's original film trilogy, which cost $281 million to make from start to finish between 1997 and 2003. That's not accounting for inflation, of course, but Amazon still looks to spend a ton of money on its tale (by contrast, Jackson later spent somewhere around $760 million on the Hobbit trilogy, so Amazon may not quite end up with the prize for most expensive Tolkien-based production ever).
You can also contrast what Amazon proposes to spend on The Lord of the Rings with what it spent on the first season of The Man in the High Castle, its sci-fi series based on the Philip K. Dick novel. That cost $72 million to make and, according to the documents, attracted a viewership of around 8 million while pulling in 1.15 million new subscribers on its own (the second season cost around $107 million to make and market, so the cost of luring new viewers and/or subscribers went up as well).
That's what it's all about for Amazon: If a show doesn't help boost subscriptions to Amazon Prime, it could be headed for the chopping block. Those 1.15 million new Prime members are what Amazon gauges the success of The Man in the High Castle by, although it's not clear how many of those subscribers stay with Prime, for how long, and how much shopping they do while members.
Not every show on Amazon — or Netflix or HBO or Hulu, for that matter — requires the kind of world-building that a Lord of the Rings or even a Man in the High Castle does. But Amazon is apparently willing to bet big — perhaps bigger than any streaming service so far, as well as most cable outlets — that their exploration of Middle-earth in the time before the stories we've already seen and read will be successful enough to justify its cost.
Do you think that it will? Could the new series drive you to join Amazon Prime if you haven't already?