Jennifer Salke Says Amazon Isn't in Volume Business (But Wants More 'Fleabag')

Co-heads of TV Vernon Sanders and Albert Cheng joined her in the TCA hot seat for a wide-ranging conversation that also touched on their decision not to release viewership metrics.
Courtesy of Amazon
From left: Vernon Sanders, Jennifer Salke and Albert Cheng

Much of the discussion about the growing competition in the streaming space has centered on how it will impact Netflix, but TV press on Saturday lobbed a question at Amazon Studios chief Jennifer Salke about how the changing landscape is affecting her business.

The Amazon Studios business, Salke explained, is unlike many of its streaming competitors because of its function as an add-on for Prime customers. "We have a very unique business in the sense that our entire north star is to entertain and delight Prime customers all over the world, so there's a different strategy there," she said at the Television Critics Association's press tour. "We will curate shows to bring to that global, diverse audience. We're not in the volume business. We're in the curated business." 

Salke also distinguished Amazon from Netflix by explaining that despite the other company's increased disclosure of selective viewership data, that's not part of her plan. "We talk about this all the time," said the exec. "I came from the network business, as did all of us, where you're used to being able to go out and talk about success in viewership numbers. Our company doesn't embrace that strategy." 

Co-head of TV and COO Albert Cheng chimed in, explaining that while they don't share "absolute numbers" with creative partners, they have other ways to talk about the response to programming: "We get together with them around a table and walk them through how it has performed."

Prime has given Amazon Studios access to more than 100 million subscribers in over 200 territories around the world. A little more than a year into her tenure at the business, Salke is starting to make her mark on the service, with Amazon unfurling announcement after announcement during the company's TCA appearance, including deals with Lena Waithe, Forest Whitaker and Connie Britton and details of the creative team behind its highly anticipated Lord of the Rings series (production is set to begin in 2020, Salke said). Salke and top lieutenants Cheng and co-head of TV Vernon Sanders continued the trend onstage, revealing the cancellations of Patriot, The Romanoffs and Too Old to Die Young, the season-five renewal of The Expanse and the early sophomore pickup for Carnival Row, as well as confirming its first-look deal with Blake Lively. 

Despite trying to move Amazon Studios forward since former chief Roy Price resigned in late 2017 following allegations of sexual harassment, Salke and company still received a question about the status of projects in development from Price's time at Amazon. 

"We absolutely have things that are still in development from the time before Jen arrived and before I arrived," Sanders said, avoiding mentioning Price's name. "We don't make a distinction between those projects. It's all about the quality of the material." Salke also weighed in, explaining, "There's no conversation around like these are 'Roy Price projects.' They're just all our projects."  

The conversation also, unsurprisingly, turned to whether there is any "wiggle room" in Phoebe Waller-Bridge's comments that the second season of Fleabag is the Emmy breakout show's last. "I dream of wiggle room," Salke said. "Anything Phoebe wants to do, we are signed up to do. Nothing would make us happier than to have her bring another season of that show or anything else she wants to do."