Amazon’s $8.5bn deal to buy MGM, the Hollywood studio behind James Bond, The Handmaid’s Tale and Gone With the Wind, has secured it the rights to a century’s worth of TV and film titles that the streaming giant intends to exploit with a wave of remakes, reimaginings and spin-offs.
The deal to buy the 97-year-old Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which has an immense library of 4,000 film titles and 17,000 hours of TV programming, is designed to supercharge Amazon’s content pipeline, which is the lifeblood of any competitor in the global battle for streaming supremacy.
Amazon has not pursued an original-content strategy in the heavyweight way that Netflix has. Just 3% of its 41,000 hours of TV shows and films are originals or owned content, compared with a fifth of the 39,000-hour library at Netflix, according to Ampere Analysis.
“It is getting harder to get library content – they’re not going to get shows like Friends now, they’re locked in elsewhere,” says Michael Pachter, a media analyst at Wedbush. “To create 4,000 movies would take them 200 years. To create 17,000 hours of TV would take an eternity. They couldn’t do it fast enough. They had to buy something. The question is how much Amazon can now exploit.”
Much of the focus has been on MGM’s flagship property: James Bond. At 59 years old, the evergreen screen spy is the world’s second-longest running film franchise after Godzilla, and some analysts have estimated he could be worth half the near-$9bn price tag of the whole library.
Bond is a treasure trove, unexploited beyond the 25 feature films focusing on its star, which Amazon would dearly love to develop into a Marvel- or Star Wars-like “universe”. The only problem is that Bond is partly owned by Eon Productions in the UK, which is run by Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson, who exercise strict control over how the character is used – even down to choosing the actor who plays him. Following the announcement of the deal, they reiterated that 007’s primary home would remain the big screen, saying: “We are committed to continue making James Bond films for the worldwide theatrical audience.”
Plans for one potential spin-off in 2002 – a movie based on the character Jinx, played by Halle Berry in Die Another Day – were scrapped the following year, while the highly successful Young Bond series of books for young adults has never made it beyond print.
“I think the greatest opportunity is with the Bond franchise,” says John Mass at Content Partners, a Los Angeles-based investment firm that owns the rights to content including Black Hawk Down, Olympus Has Fallen and part of the CSI television franchise. “I think that ‘universe’ is probably an overused term, but I do think that there is a huge amount of intellectual property that has not been exploited. What Bond has demonstrated is that the asset, the brand, is resilient.”
Still, beyond Bond, MGM – which made $1.5bn (£1bn) last year, mostly from licensing its properties – has an array of valuable assets ripe for further exploitation. Rocky has been given a new lease of life with the Creed series of films starring Michael B Jordan. A second Addams Family animated film is due for release this year, while a TV series is in the works at Netflix. Disney+ has an upcoming series, Willow, based on the 1988 Ron Howard film, and a hybrid animated/live-action reboot of The Pink Panther is in the works.
Meanwhile, the Russo brothers – the directors of one of the biggest-grossing film of all time, Avengers: Endgame – are on board to remake several films, starting with The Thomas Crown Affair; a third instalment of Legally Blonde is due next year; and CBS has psychological crime drama Clarice, a TV spin-off which has its roots in The Silence of the Lambs.
But unlike MGM, which was forced into bankruptcy a decade ago and currently carries about $2bn in debt, Amazon has the financial firepower to supercharge the exploitation of this library. The company, which has $73bn in cash on hand and a market value of $1.6 trillion, spent $11bn on content last year and will lay out $15.5bn this year. It has reportedly spent $465m on its first TV series set in the world of Lord of the Rings, the rights for which were secured after Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, reportedly told executives to “find a Game of Thrones” to take the fight to Netflix, the world’s leading streamer.
Observers and analysts speculate at possibilities including a remake of Thelma and Louise, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, or reviving the late-80s series Thirtysomething. Franchises including Stargate and Tomb Raider appear ripe for a major new investment, while RoboCop is ready for new audiences following 2014’s disappointing remake. TV hits The Handmaid’s Tale and Fargo are currently locked in deals with Hulu and FX, but are also viewed as ripe for future exploitation.
The only content off the table is some 2,000 classic films, including hits such as Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz and Singin’ in the Rain, which MGM sold to Warner Bros in 1986.
“In terms of production there is a lot of intellectual property that is under-exploited from a rights standpoint,” says Mass. “There are loads of potential sequels, remakes and prequels in the MGM library. I’m sure MGM have done a good job with it, but the streaming wars are going on, and a new team of people at Amazon will uncover a lot more opportunities.”
In brief Deepmind and the European Bioinformatics Institute released a database of more than 350,000 3D protein structures predicted by the biz’s AI model AlphaFold.
That data covers the 20,000 or so proteins made in the human body, and is available for anyone to study. The proteomes of 20 other organisms, from Zebrafish to E.coli bacteria, are also in there, too, and hundreds of millions of more structures will be added over time, we’re told.
“In the hands of scientists around the world, this new protein almanac will enable and accelerate research that will advance our understanding of these building blocks of life,” said DeepMind’s CEO Demis Hassabis. He hopes that it will be a valuable resource that will be used in the discovery of new drugs and our understanding of diseases.
LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman is helping to take Joby, which is being billed as ‘Tesla meets Uber in the air’, public through a SPAC deal.
Electric air-taxi start-up Joby Aviation will add Silicon Valley figure Reid Hoffman to its board as the company prepares to go public via a merger with a blank-cheque firm.
LinkedIn co-founder Hoffman, who is now a partner at venture capital firm Greylock, has a key connection to the 12-year-old start-up. Earlier this year, it was announced that Joby is going public through a $6.6bn reverse merger deal with Reinvent Technology Partners, the special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) Hoffman set up with Zynga founder Mark Pincus and investor Michael Thompson.
The deal is expected to close in this summer. Joby is the first aerial vehicle start-up to go public via the SPAC route, and the deal will provide the company with $1.6bn in cash.
SPACs have been growing in popularity this year as they can provide a quicker way of bringing a company public rather than the traditional route of an initial public offering.
Hoffman will be added by the Joby board once the deal is complete, alongside Google general counsel Halimah DeLaine Prado and former Southwest Airlines CFO Laura Wright.
Toyota Motor Corporation board member and operating officer James Kuffner and Zoox CEO Aicha Evans have already been added to the board in recent months.
“We are incredibly humbled to have been able to assemble such a remarkable and diverse group of world-class leaders to guide and support Joby as we plan to enter the public market,” said JoeBen Bevirt, Joby CEO and founder.
Joby acquired Uber’s Elevate flying car business at the end of December and now plans to begin a commercial passenger ‘air taxi’ service in 2024. Hoffman described the venture as “Tesla meets Uber in the air” in a recent interview.
The company will work with Toyota from its California-based manufacturing facility to build its electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft. Toyota led the company’s $620m Series C funding round last year, with other investors including Intel Capital and JetBlue Technology Ventures.
Virtual contact during the pandemic made many over-60s feel lonelier and more depressed than no contact at all, new research has found.
Many older people stayed in touch with family and friends during lockdown using the phone, video calls, and other forms of virtual contact. Zoom choirs, online book clubs and virtual bedtime stories with grandchildren helped many stave off isolation.
But the study, among the first to comparatively assess social interactions across households and mental wellbeing during the pandemic, found many older people experienced a greater increase in loneliness and long-term mental health disorders as a result of the switch to online socialising than those who spent the pandemic on their own.
“We were surprised by the finding that an older person who had only virtual contact during lockdown experienced greater loneliness and negative mental health impacts than an older person who had no contact with other people at all,” said Dr Yang Hu of Lancaster University, who co-wrote the report, published on Monday in Frontiers in Sociology.
“We were expecting that a virtual contact was better than total isolation but that doesn’t seem to have been the case for older people,” he added.
The problem, said Hu, was that older people unfamiliar with technology found it stressful to learn how to use it. But even those who were familiar with technology often found the extensive use of the medium over lockdown so stressful that it was more damaging to their mental health than simply coping with isolation and loneliness.
“Extensive exposure to digital means of communication can also cause burnout. The results are very consistent,” said Hu, who collected data from 5,148 people aged 60 or over in the UK and 1,391 in the US – both before and during the pandemic.
“It’s not only loneliness that was made worse by virtual contact, but general mental health: these people were more depressed, more isolated and felt more unhappy as a direct result of their use of virtual contact,” he said.
Hu said more emphasis needed to be placed on safe ways to have face-to-face contact in future emergencies. There must also, he added, be a drive to bolster the digital capacity of the older age groups.
“We need to have disaster preparedness,” he said. “We need to equip older people with the digital capacity to be able to use technology for the next time a disaster like this comes around.”
The findings outlined the limitations of a digital-only future and the promise of a digitally enhanced future in response to population ageing in the longer term, added Hu.
“Policymakers and practitioners need to take measures to pre-empt and mitigate the potential unintended implications of household-centred pandemic responses for mental wellbeing,” he said.
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, welcomed the report. “We know the virtual environment can exacerbate those feelings of not actually being there with loved ones in person,” she said.
“It’s essential therefore that government makes preventing and tackling loneliness a top policy priority, backed up with adequate funding.
“It’s not over the top to point out that in the worst cases, loneliness can kill in the sense that it undermines resilience to health threats of many kinds, as well as leading to older people in the twilight of their lives losing all hope, so they lack a reason to carry on.”
Patrick Vernon, associate director at the Centre for Ageing Better, said he saw many examples of older people using technology to stay connected in “really positive ways”.
But he was also doubtful: “We know that even for those who are online, lack of skills and confidence can prevent people from using the internet in the ways that they’d like to.”
Previous research by the Centre for Ageing Better found that since the pandemic, there had been significant increases in the use of digital technology among those aged 50-70 years who were already online.
But there are still 3 million people across the UK who are offline, with a significant digital divide affecting low-income households. Twenty-seven per cent of people aged 50-70 with an annual household income under £25,000 were offline before the pandemic.
Vernon said: “Our research has found that some people who were offline found it difficult to connect with family, friends and neighbours during the pandemic – and even those who were online said technology didn’t compensate for missing out on physical social interactions.”