Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Reactions to Amazon’s Purchase of MGM

Nicole Sperling, New York Times:

At MGM, the two [Michael De Luca and Pamela Abdy] have compiled a heady mix of A-list directors and compelling material they hope hearkens back to the days when Fred Astaire and Judy Garland roamed the once-hallowed studio’s hallways. The next six months will show if their strategy pays off. [Paul Thomas] Anderson’s movie will debut on Nov. 26. It will follow Ridley Scott’s pulpy drama “House of Gucci,” starring Lady Gaga and Adam Driver. In December, Joe Wright’s musical adaptation of “Cyrano,” with Peter Dinklage and featuring music from The National, will be released.

[…]

In a shareholder meeting last month, Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and executive chairman, called the reason behind the acquisition “very simple.” He said MGM had a “vast, deep catalog of much beloved” movies and shows. “We can reimagine and redevelop that I.P. for the 21st century.”

That runs counter to the approach Mr. De Luca and Ms. Abdy have primarily taken.

Paris Marx, Jacobin:

Commenting on the merger, Nicholas Russell explained that the streaming wars and the consolidation it’s incentivized turns film and television into “commodities to be traded and hoarded in order to capture subscriptions,” which leads to a “dilution of both quality and vitality for the cinematic form.” While companies like Disney are producing fewer movies for cinema as they focus exclusively on blockbusters, they’re all developing a flood of content for their streaming platforms to keep people’s attention — but the quality of those programs has notably declined.

This is not new, per se, as many works of art have long been treated as valuable assets. Wealthy patrons ordered musical compositions to which they held exclusive rights for a period of time; paintings were commissioned by religious institutions and royalty; sculptures were collected by the aristocracy for hundreds of years before the modern art market.

But what is seemingly new is how much entertainment is driven by so few franchises and, owing to consolidation, so few studios. It is not enough to have a successful movie and some sequels. Now, it is that and spin-off movies and broadcast television shows and streaming media and theme park attractions and novelizations that occupy the same narrative universe. Shared worlds are not a recent invention, but it is hard to come to terms with the sheer volume of storytelling that is driven by milking single collections of intellectual property.

That oft-referenced Walt Disney quote comes to mind:

I don’t make pictures just to make money. I make money to make more pictures.

I wish I saw more cinema driven by the love of movies and less seemingly built around an assembly-line business model and easy revenue.

Brent Kendall, Wall Street Journal:

The Federal Trade Commission will be the agency to review Amazon.com Inc.’s proposed acquisition of Hollywood studio MGM, according to people familiar with the matter, just as the commission gets a new chairwoman who has been critical of the online giant’s expansion.

[…]

The MGM review could present an early test for new FTC Chairwoman Lina Khan, who made her name in antitrust circles in large part by criticizing Amazon. She wrote a widely read law-review article while at Yale Law School that argued U.S. antitrust law has failed to restrain the online retailer.

If you haven’t read Khan’s instant classic 2017 Yale Law Journal article about Amazon, I urge you to make time for it. I found it very readable, even for a layperson like me, though it is more like a book than then “note” it is categorized as.

Annie Palmer and Lauren Feiner, CNBC:

Amazon is pressing for the recusal of FTC Chairwoman Lina Khan from ongoing antitrust probes of the e-commerce giant, citing her past criticisms of the company’s power.

In a 25-page motion filed Wednesday with the FTC, Amazon argued that Khan has made public comments about Amazon and its conduct, including that the company is “guilty of antitrust violations and should be broken up,” suggesting she lacks impartiality in antitrust investigations into Amazon.

Calling bias is, according to this report, not an uncommon move for companies that are facing scrutiny. That does not make it any less a cheap shot. If Khan’s pre-FTC analysis is correct — if a fair and honest assessment of the marketplace arrives at a conclusion that is negative for Amazon’s practices — that is not evidence of prejudice. I am sure there are many scholars that disagree with the conclusions Khan arrived at in that Yale piece, but I do not think anyone would seriously accuse her of not doing her homework on the issues.