When Apple and Amazon talk about making shows, there’s one title that keeps coming up.
“The mandate from [Amazon CEO] Jeff Bezos is clear: Bring me ‘Game of Thrones.'” Roy Price, Amazon’s head of Prime video global content and Amazon Studios, said about his company’s plans in a recent report from Variety.
Game of Thrones is now shorthand for the growing efforts of big tech companies to begin making high-quality video in an effort to get a piece of the growing number of users who are cutting the cord and paying for content online.
The fantasy drama has made itself a core part of HBO’s identity, leading to millions of tweets and record growth for the company. Right after GoT season 7 started airing, HBO Now hit the top of Apple’s App Store for revenue, beating Netflix.
So it should come at no surprise that the most valuable companies in the world want their own pieces of the hyped content pie. Both Apple and Amazon have made investments in original video series. Going forward, the game is getting a lot more serious.
“I think there’s a ton of appeal in the value proposition of spending a fixed amount per month to watch tons of content that you used to have to buy or rent through iTunes,” Jan Dawson, chief analyst of Jackdaw Research, wrote in an email.
“Exactly what the balance of current and library content, and third party and original content, would be is a big question,” he continued.
In order to achieve fame, these tech giants need more than just decent shows on their platforms. They need something that inspires trending hashtags on Twitter, something that becomes an international phenomenon and has millions of people coming back to the network week after week and talking about it all the time.
Literally obsessed with game of thrones 😍 Jon snow is everything
— Jessica (@Jess_Is_a_Car) September 10, 2017
“I do think ‘Game of Thrones’ is to TV as ‘Jaws’ and ‘Star Wars’ was to the movies of the 1970s,” Price told Variety. “It’ll inspire a lot of people. Everybody wants a big hit and certainly that’s the show of the moment in terms of being a model for a hit.”
That “everybody” has expanded from TV networks keeping viewers and therefore advertisers hooked to major tech companies that have made significant investments in video. Apple reportedly is investing $1 billion into original video over the next year. Facebook is prepping to spend the same amount. Meanwhile, Amazon has a budget of $4.5 billion, according to JPMorgan estimates, and Netflix plans to spend $6 billion.
Amazon and these other networks aren’t brand new to entertainment. In fact, Amazon has won multiple Emmy awards for Transparent, a comedy-drama series about a father’s changing life as a trans woman. Apple tested the waters of original video with its show Planet of the Apps and now James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke. But neither has left critics, or more importantly global viewers, that impressed.
As these tech giants enter the entertainment world, Emmy awards aren’t everything. More important is the conversation that shows, like Game of Thrones, can inspire that can then lead to more loyal viewers. For Amazon, that also means more Amazon Prime subscribers, and for Apple, that leads to more users of Apple Music.
Both Amazon and Apple have showed they are committed to original content with their billion-dollar checks. Still, scoring the rights to shows like Game of Thrones requires seasoned executives with experience navigating scripts and deals in Hollywood.
That’s why Amazon hired Sharon Tal Yguado, a former Fox International Channels executive, in January as head of event series, who’s tasked to “build a team focused on the development and production of big scope, big event genre series — hourlong science fiction, action, fantasy and horror series,” Deadline reported.
While it was once a mystery to who was really in charge of original video within Apple Music, the tech giant has since poached the co-presidents of Sony Pictures Entertainment, Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg, to lead Apple’s video programming. They hired Matt Cherniss, whose Hollywood creds includes FX’s Nip/Tuck and Sons of Anarchy and Fox’s Glee and Bob’s Burgers.
Those leaders at Amazon and at Apple are now in charge of finding the next Game of Thrones. Of course, they also will be competing with entertainment juggernauts like Netflix, Hulu, and HBO.
It’s hard act to copy—even HBO gets it wrong at times. In fact, the man who oversaw its launch, Michael Lombardo, has since left the company after eight years and admitted to the difficulties in programming.
“Vinyl didn’t launch in the way we were hoping it would; it’s disappointing, but it happens,” Lombardo told Deadline. “I’m enormously disappointed that we couldn’t figure the financials for the David Fincher project, but that happens.”
Going forward, more of those disappointments may appear on Apple and Amazon as they each try to shape their content offerings and find “stories that resonate with large audiences, regardless of age, gender, or background,” as Hulu’s head of content Craig Erwich told Variety.
But there’s no question the tech industry has been making big moves.
“Not only hiring but publicly announcing the hire of two Sony TV execs was a huge signal that Apple is about to get much more serious about original content,” Dawson wrote. “And I think that in turn probably means some kind of video service from Apple is coming, because it really makes no sense to me to spend all this money on video and then bury the video in a music app.”