Amazon Studios' Jennifer Salke Touts "Increased Appetite" for Global TV Strategy

Salke and TV co-heads Albert Cheng and Vernon Sanders gave TV press updates on 'Lord of the Rings,' 'Underground Railroad' and other previously announced projects.
Courtesy of Amazon
From left: Vernon Sanders, Jennifer Salke and Albert Chang

"Global" was the buzzword when Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke appeared before reporters at the Television Critics Association's winter press tour on Tuesday afternoon.

The executive, flanked by TV co-heads Albert Cheng and Vernon Sanders, touted Amazon’s efforts to bring original programming to the company’s 100 million-plus Prime members around the world. When she was pressed on how that strategy differs from Netflix, which operates in 170 countries around the world, Salke pointed to Joe and Anthony Russo’s spy drama Citadel, which will feature interconnected local-language versions shot in multiple countries including Italy, India and Mexico. Priyanka Chopra and Richard Madden, both of whom have global fan bases, are set to star.

Another project the exec described as fitting into Amazon’s global ethos is Steve McQueen’s Last Days, which is expected to feature an international cast portraying people from around the world who leave a dying Earth to colonize Mars.

"It's no longer a barrier to read a translation for our customers," Salke explained. "We're seeing increased appetite, especially with younger Prime members. They really have no barrier to entry with language. The world is big, but it's getting smaller in that way." 

Salke opened her half-hour session with a frenzy of announcements about upcoming projects at the streamer. Among them, a series order for a Jack Reacher drama; the core cast of Amazon's highly anticipated Lord of the Rings TV series; and first-look deals with Brad Pitt's Plan B, Oscar winner Steve McQueen and Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna's company.

In the two years since the former NBC exec joined the ecommerce giant's entertainment outpost, she's been busy building up its slate, and many of the projects discussed are the result of those efforts. Still, development on certain shows has been slow going and many reporters’ questions centered on high-profile, long-gestating shows.

Salke gave updates on both Lena Waithe’s Them — for which a preview clip was shown — and Lord of the Rings, which will begin production next month. On Wheel of Time, Sanders noted, “These big world-building shows take some time to craft.” He added that Amazon is “well underway” with production and that executives “love what we’ve seen so far.” For Barry Jenkins’ Underground Railroad, Salke explained that Jenkins is “still shooting” but that the project is expected to premiere in late 2020. Meanwhile, for Reese Witherspoon’s Daisy Jones and the Six adaptation, Salke said she recently heard seven original songs written for the show that gave her “chills and tears.”

Salke, Sanders and Cheng were also queried about what projects are in the works from several of their previously announced overall deals for Connie Britton, Blake Lively and Sharon Horgan. Salke noted the streamer is working on something with Lively and her husband, Ryan Reynolds, but that the deals are still being sorted out. Britton has also brought multiple ideas.  

Salke's appearance was a victory lap of sorts for Amazon after an awards season that paid off with several Emmy and Golden Globe wins for Fleabag and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. "We have a clearly defined original content strategy, and it's paying off and really delivering for a worldwide audience," she said during her prepared remarks. 

While Amazon was early to the streaming game, the competition has been heating up as new entrants from Disney and Apple enter the market — with more from WarnerMedia and NBCUniversal on the way. But Cheng maintained that it doesn’t change Amazon’s strategy, which is focused on providing value to Prime subscribers. “All of those launches are great,” he said. “It brings more attention to streaming as a whole.”  

Added Salke, “We find ourselves saying customer a lot. We never said those things before in our previous incarnations. But then you actually get in there and then you realize, we do have a very different model.”