The move continues a quick evolution of the retailer's video service from a repository of old programs to a source of dynamic originals. Beating the streaming leader (and likely some traditional broadcasters) for the highly anticipated series shows that Amazon wants its video service to be more than just a perk for people who buy Prime in order to get free shipping.
It's clear that the company intends to make Prime Video a draw on its own and landing a show with appeal in multiple parts of the world should help it achieve that goal.
What is Amazon doing?
The online retailer has made a deal with Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May, former hosts of the popular British series Top Gear. The trio, along with former Top Gear executive producer Andy Wilman became available after the BBC fired Clarkson after a physical altercation he had with a producer.
The former Top Gear team have committed to three seasons of a new car show for which Amazon will have global right, according to a press release. The first season will go into production soon and is scheduled to premiere for Prime members in 2016.
"I feel like I've climbed out of a bi-plane and into a spaceship," Clarkson said of moving to Amazon.
Neither the trio of hosts nor Amazon has released any details about the new program other than that it will be about cars.
"Customers told us they wanted to see the team back on screen, and we are excited to make that happen," said Jay Marine, Vice President of Amazon Prime Video EU. "Millions of Prime members are already enjoying our ground-breaking original shows. We can't wait to see what Jeremy, Richard, James and the team will create in what is sure to be one of the most globally anticipated shows of 2016."
How big a deal is this?
Securing the show is a win for Amazon not just because it should bring members to Prime from around the world but because it beat out Netflix for the program. The new show should be a draw globally which can help Amazon open and expand territories -- something that is equally critical to Netflix's future growth plans.
Top Gear has a global audience of 350 million, according to The Wall Street Journal. If even a fraction of that audience follows the hosts and joins Prime in order to do so, Amazon will have a massive hit on its hands. The company also has the right to recoup some of its unspecified investment in the program by licensing it to traditional broadcasters in markets where Prime is not available.
A shot has been fired
Up until now Prime Video has been an also-ran compared to Netflix. It's originals, specifically Transparent, had started to gain a little critical buzz, but none have viewership levels approaching Netflix's hits.
Adding this new program suggests that Prime Video is no longer simply a way to keep members of the free shipping service on board. This is a huge step toward making the service a draw on its own that might then feed business back to Amazon.
With the signing of Clarkson, Hammond, and May Amazon has stepped up and announced that it's going to take on Netflix. This is the perfect program to kick that off and it should boost not only Amazon sales, but also some of the other originals on Prime Video.
This is a bold, expensive move for the company, but it feels a lot like when what was then called Sirius Satellite Radio signed Howard Stern for an unprecedented amount of money. It's a deal that will only be costly if it does not work and just like Stern, the Top Gear trio should be bringing its audience with it.