Commentary

Amazon Marks Its Award With A Presidential Salute

The funny thing about “Mozart in the Jungle,” the Amazon Prime second-year series that won the Golden Globe award Sunday night as the best comedy, is that no one has a very good idea about how many people have seen it.

But the amazing thing is the news that came after. On the heels of the award came news Amazon will live stream President Obama’s last State of the Union address on Tuesday night, and then make it available for viewing on-demand on Wednesday. It will also post Obama’s previous speeches. 

The White House’s Chief Digital Officer Jason Goldman’s announcement called it a way to “meet people where they are” and then explained, that means “recognizing the massive shift in the American media diet toward on-demand video.”

What a coup. Who would ever think a streaming service would go out of its way to show at State of the Union address? I thought people go to Amazon or Netflix to get away from those things.

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But really, we don't know anything. What the viewing public, Golden Globe voters, Hollywood producers and even the president knows about the audience for pay streaming video services is approximately nothing. So, it is hard to know if “Mozart” is as unfamiliar to viewers as it would seem, or if millions would ever "demand" to see a presidential speech.

The series gets positive reviews, mostly, but not effusive ones and it gets publicity, but "Mozart" probably never led off an edition of "Entertainment Tonight." There is no Nielsen-like monitor that would explain if viewers watch it, let alone like it. Its award seems mystifying. In a scathing day after review of the Globes telecast by The Hollywood Reporter’s Kevin Fallon, he wrote:

“Amazon’s polite little romantic comedy about people who play in an orchestra isn’t necessarily a bad show. It is, however, the worst show of the six that were nominated for Best TV Comedy. Social media was divided between confusion—“What the hell is ‘Mozart in the Jungle’?”—and outrage when the series defeated the likes of ‘Veep,’  ‘Transparent,’ ‘Silicon Valley,’ ‘Casual’ and ‘Orange Is the New Black’ for the award.  The Golden Globes has a history of crowning the hot new thing. But this was not the hot new thing. It was barely lukewarm.”

As far as we know.  

That is a unique aspect to streaming services--they are so unknowable, in their own way. Last week, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings told Re/Code that  “‘The Ridiculous Six,’ our Adam Sandler movie, in its first 30 days, has been the biggest thing we’ve ever seen in the first 30 days for any movie on Netflix, ever. It’s tremendous for what we want it to be, which is just enjoyable. It really appeals to its audience.”  

But how popular is that? How big is big?

Sometimes you can make reasonable inferences, even without the numbers to back it up. Amazon’s “Transparent” starring Jeffrey Tambor, was outrageously original in its first season, and featured such  spellbinding performances by Jeffrey Tambor and Judith Light. 

But more than that, its presence either led, or came around at almost exactly the same time, discussion of transgender issues began to occupy headlines and covers of magazines. (Also, I would say, in its first season, when it won a Golden Globe as best comedy, it was actually funny some of the time, which would seem to be a prerequisite. Its second season is just grim.)

We’re not very far down the streaming pike, so every nomination Netflix, Amazon, Hulu gets seems to be at least as significant for where that nominated series appears than its actual quality.  
For the streamers, these awards shows are huge marketing platforms. So is live streaming the State of the Union address.
pj@mediapost.com
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