Does Amazon’s Next CEO Care About Hollywood?

Andy Jassy
Courtesy of Amazon

Amazon's Andy Jassy.

Incoming CEO Andy Jassy isn’t likely to make big studio moves — but has built ties with Hollywood while running the tech giant’s web services division.

You’ll have to forgive anyone in Hollywood whose response to the Feb. 2 news that Andy Jassy will replace Jeff Bezos as Amazon CEO was, “who?”

An Amazon lifer, Jassy spent nearly two decades running the Seattle e-commerce giant’s highly profitable cloud-computing division, a role that hardly put him in a position to rub elbows with the creatives making films and TV shows for Amazon Studios. But Jassy’s appointment to the CEO role, which will take place during the third quarter when Bezos becomes executive chairman, should have little impact on the company’s entertainment business, Amazon insiders say.

“One of the big hallmarks of Hollywood is when you have a new leader come in, there’s a whole changing of the guard. That’s not the Amazon way,” says former Amazon vp digital media Bill Carr, who oversaw Prime Video and Amazon Studios in their early days and has co-authored the forthcoming book Working Backwards: Insights, Stories and Secrets From Inside Amazon.

WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar, who worked under Bezos during Amazon’s early days, calls his former boss “one of the most talented and effective business teachers this planet has to offer, for those willing to listen and learn.” Jassy is among the executives who took advantage of those teachings. He spent a year and a half shadowing Amazon’s billionaire founder before founding Amazon Web Services, which he built into a data-hosting business with $45 billion in 2020 sales.

Those who know both executives well say that Jassy is not expected to deviate far from the course that Bezos has laid out. Where Jassy could differ most from Bezos is in his personal interests.

It was Bezos’ passion for entertainment — not to mention his desire to attract more subscribers to Amazon’s Prime membership — that drove the company to launch entertainment arm Amazon Studios in 2010. In the years since, Bezos — who has long kept a home in Los Angeles and bought the Warner Estate from David Geffen for $165 million in 2020 — has become a fixture at awards shows. "Jeff has been a strong supporter and backer of the Amazon Studios efforts and keenly interested in their progress, and that's helpful," says Tom Wellington, co-head of television at WME. “What Jeff’s interest has allowed is Prime Video and Amazon Studios to get a little bit of room within the Amazon culture to do things in ways that work more for Hollywood.”

Yet Bezos has been relatively hands-off when it comes to programming. He doesn’t sit in on pitch meetings. Instead, executives at Amazon Studios, led by Jennifer Salke, travel to Seattle to present him with their greenlight decisions. “I would never say no to something the team wanted to do, but I might say yes to something the team didn't want to do,” Bezos explained to THR in a 2015 interview.

Sources say there have been a few projects where Bezos has taken a more active role, including Amazon’s $250 million deal for rights to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings that included a five-season commitment to a TV series based on the fantasy novels. Bezos’ personal interest in space-set The Expanse is also said to have played a role in Amazon’s decision to revive the series after its cancellation on SyFy. (In a rare move, Bezos revealed Amazon Studios’ season-four pickup of The Expanse himself during a 2018 appearance at a National Space Society conference.)

People close to Jassy, meanwhile, describe him as having a fondness for sports — he’s a New York Giants fan and part-owner of the Seattle Kraken pro hockey team — and music, informed by managing bands in his youth. One person who knows Jassy well says he’s unlikely to meddle in the creative of an Amazon Studios project but has the media savvy to be an ally for the company’s entertainment partners.

That’s what he did as the CEO of AWS, which offers a suite of media services products that have become part of streaming video's essential backbone. The Walt Disney Co., Netflix, Comcast and NBCUniversal, WarnerMedia, Sony, Fox Corp. ViacomCBS, Discovery Inc. and MGM are all clients of Jassy's Amazon kingdom, and use AWS to run their streaming services. Jassy is known to occasionally get involved in high-level talks between AWS and its clients, whether it's to help close a deal, or help resolve a sticking point.

Though Amazon’s entertainment dealings are a high-profile part of the business, they aren’t expected to be among Jassy’s first priorities as CEO, a role he’s assuming as the $1.7 trillion company faces increased regulatory scrutiny. The Amazon Studios division has a $7 billion content budget, but the company doesn’t break out its revenues or operating income. After all, shows like Jack Ryan and The Boys are meant to help Amazon ensure that its 150 million-plus Prime subscribers keep renewing their memberships.

Salke projected confidence about the L.A. outpost’s future amid the CEO shift on Golden Globes morning, Feb. 3. After the studio picked up 10 nominations, she told THR that Bezos remains “a huge fan of our business.”

Even after Jassy takes the reins at Amazon, Carr says it would be a waste of time for Hollywood to roll out the red carpet: “I’d be very surprised if Andy starts putting his hand firmly on the tiller of driving the artistic direction of Amazon Studios and weighing in on specific greenlight decisions.”

Alex Weprin contributed to this report.