What Amazon is getting for its quarter of a billion — the deal also includes the services of former “Top Gear” executive producer Andy Wilman – is a proven team who knows how to create that rare vehicle that transcends borders and reaches one of the most desirable male demos. Boys — whether in London, Los Angeles or New Delhi — love to see these guys play with toys.
“The programming the 'Top Gear' team will deliver for Amazon checks all the boxes on the list,” says veteran international programming consultant Russ Kagan. While Amazon's streaming service is commercial-free, Kagan notes, the series from the “Top Gear” crew will be perfect for seamless product placement – another source of potential revenue.
Slated to develop 12 episodes a year, the team will presumably create a show not that different from the original BBC series, putting the pedal-to-the-metal of all sorts of mechanized exotica and featuring celebrity visits. That figures out to about $7 million an episode, but it's a bargain not only in what Amazon gains in expanding its global footprint, but what it has stolen from its competitor Netflix.
Currently Netflix has rights to “Top Gear,” and the BBC plans to continue with the franchise, replacing Clarkson with Chris Evans. While Evans is well-known celeb in the U.K., still the BBC has lost the “Top Gear” team that racked up incredible success.
(The BBC estimates “Top Gear”’s global audience at 350 million. It also has 3 million YouTube subscribers, and the magazine spin-off from the show boasts a circulation of 1.7 million. While the BBC doesn't break out revenues for individual series, it's believed that “Top Gear” alone throws off about $75 million a year from global sales. )
Netflix did bid for the services of Clarkson and crew, but declined to match Amazon's $250 million offer. I wonder though, if Netflix should have let the “Top Gear” team out of its grasp. In letting them go to Amazon, not only do Neflix's “Top Gear” rights diminish in value, but its enemy gets a signature programming weapon.
The deal does have its risks for Amazon, the biggest being Clarkson, who has attracted his fair share of controversy, including a propensity for making comments that are far from politically correct. The most glaring incident occurred last March after Clarkson bloodied the lip of one of the show's producers. Clarkson was mightily contrite, but the BBC had no choice but to let him go.
That incident came up Sunday at an Amazon session featuring Clarkson, Hammond and May at the Television Critics Association meeting, but was brushed aside by Amazon Studios chief Roy Price. The subtext of Price's comments was that with such a big payday, Clarkson would keep his bad behavior in check. I can think of about 250 million reasons why he would be motivated to pull his punches -- both figuratively and literally.