How “The Rings of Power” Might Shape the Future of Streaming
Let’s take a quick look at the high-stakes behind Amazon’s unprecedented streaming show investment—The Rings of Power.
Quite like how the fate of Middle Earth was in the hands of a Hobbit, it’s fitting that the fate of the world of streaming content might come down to a hobbit. Or, more accurately, a whole cast of hobbits, dwarves, elves, humans, and their heroic adventures across Middle Earth.
I’m not a Tolk-lore expert but, I’m pretty excited at the prospects of a completely new Lord of the Rings show.
Like many who work in film and video, I’m equally interested to see how well this show does, both critically and commercially. Will it be a hit or a bomb, as they say?
While I have no actual stakes in this show being successful or not, all of us in film and video might feel the repercussions on how it lands. Amazon has put a tremendous amount of money into this project. To be specific, a $250 million investment just for the television rights. As well as another reported commitment of at least $1 billion USD to make five seasons of the program.
With Jeff Bezos reportedly being involved in the development through and through, The Rings of Power is setting up to be a flashpoint for streaming content, in general.
If it goes well, we might see a doubling-down of efforts from Amazon and their streaming rivals, pushing budgets even higher.
However, if it flops, this might spell the end of the lavish days of the streaming wars.
The Rings of Power
So, a little about the new fantasy television series on Amazon Prime Video. The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is a new series based on J. R. R. Tolkien‘s novel The Lord of the Rings, and its many appendices.
It’s set in the “second age” of Middle-earth and takes place thousands of years before the events depicted in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
This means, there will be no Frodo or Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf the Grey, Aragorn, or Samwise Gamgee. For many audiences, these will be completely new characters. They will lead new adventures that will have only faint connections to everyone’s favorite mainstream saga.
The rights for The Lord of the Rings were purchased by Amazon back in 2017. The Rings of Power went into production in New Zealand in February 2020. The production had to be shut down for several months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Production finally wrapped in August 2021, and the show has been in the editing, post-production, and most probably occasional re-shooting stage leading up to its launch in late 2022.
An eight-episode first season premiered on Prime Video and has already received modest, if not generally positive, reviews from critics. However, the verdict from fans and the zeitgeist overall is still up in the air.
Let the Game of Streams Begin
Since Amazon doesn’t operate in a vacuum, The Rings of Power isn’t being released without competition or controversy. One could argue that The Rings of Power was conceived as a direct competitor to HBO’s widely popular fantasy television show Game of Thrones (based on the novel series by George R. R. Martin).
While the original eight-season (73 episodes) run of the show ended in 2019, a long-anticipated prequel, House of the Dragon, was also greenlit back in 2019. I premiered just over a week before The Rings of Power, to similarly modest to positive reviews.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen companies or studios competing against each other with similar blockbuster movies or shows. It’s natural to see major studios vie to out-produce each other with the prevalent media of the time.
In the late 90s–films like Armageddon and Deep Impact were released opposite each other. James Bond and Mission: Impossible films often find themselves up against each other at the box office, this phenomenon has the name “twin films” and happens quite regularly.
However, in this instance, the stakes might be at their highest ever.
Realistic Expectations for the Future
So, what can we expect from the release of The Rings of Power? What might it mean for the future of film and video content? Well, for one, the stakes are high simply because Amazon pushed them higher than any company has ever pushed a project before.
From the initial $250 million television rights to the reported $1 billion investment into the production, Amazon has a huge monetary commitment in place. It will need to see considerable returns to justify the money spent.
And, while it’s still a bit of a mystery how a streaming service that combines its monthly subscription fees with free deliveries and other perks can define its success in an instance like this, there will be some obvious results recorded in the arena of public opinion.
Suppose the show is well-received by both critics and earns a level of esteem with audiences across the world. In that case, The Rings of Power could truly be a worthwhile investment and catapult Amazon’s Prime content into the realms of Netflix and Stranger Things.
However, suppose it fails to catch on and becomes the butt of jokes by fans of the original film series (or against Game of Thrones fans). In that case, it could easily be labeled a bust. Amazon would almost have no choice but to scale back its production budgets and focus on more lucrative Prime offerings.
Is This the End or the Beginning of the Streaming Wars?
That’s the question that I think The Rings of Power is going to answer. With a global recession looming, many industries are tightening budgets, not vastly expanding them. Amazon itself is probably eager to re-focus its margins.
If The Rings of Power fails to deliver in the most spectacular of ways, then it could quickly become a prominent example of unnecessary overspending.
If it “fails” in the public’s view, Amazon could scale back production, which could cause an industry scale-back as its competitors—like Netflix, Hulu, and Paramount+—could do the same. (As we’ve seen in the news, HBO Max is already in this process.)
However, if The Rings of Power can seemingly do the impossible and become the new most significant thing in the world of content and entertainment, then maybe the floodgates will stay open for a bit longer, and other great, more ambitious projects (like Amazon’s A League of Their Own reboot, for example) might save getting the axe and actually get more budgets for their next seasons.
Only time will tell.
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Cover image via Amazon Prime.
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