Netflix has announced yet another high-profile show — “Narcos” — that will chart the life of Pablo Escobar, one of Colombia’s most notorious drug lords. The initial order is for 10 episodes and the package involves high-profile, top-dollar talent like the director of the recent “Robocop” reboot and the producer of “Children of Men.” This is becoming Netflix’s modus operandi; many of its recent series have come bundled with glossy Hollywood brands like the Wachowski brothers.
Nearly simultaneously, Amazon announced it has snatched the exclusive streaming rights to what was once the hottest series on television away from Netflix. The debut of a “24” follow-up series —”24: Live Another Day” — this May could revive interest in the franchise.
The rivalry between Netflix and Amazon promises to heat up as Amazon reportedly considers launching a free, ad-supported video streaming service to compete more directly against Netflix. The Amazon Prime service price was recently bumped up to $99 per year.
Netflix has differentiated itself with ambitious, relatively expensive productions like “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black.” It now seems as though Amazon is also raising its stakes. It just greenlighted a new show by X-Files creator Chris Carter and a kooky Netflix-like series called “Mozart in the Jungle,” with Gael Garcia Bernal portraying a renegade orchestra conductor.
At the moment, Netflix still holds a commanding lead in spending on production budgets and signing expensive talent. But the lead might be narrowing and Amazon obviously has deep pockets.
The biggest loser here could be Hulu, which has been depending on British exports and some quirky indie fare. Hulu is unlikely to jump into the fray of competing for $50 million to $100 million series packages featuring star producers and Oscar nominees.
Another loser might be network television, where aging giants such as “American Idol” and “Survivor” now struggle with double-digit annual audience erosion. The artistic freedom and structural experimentation that opens up when content makers are not constricted by increasingly archaic network TV programming rules seems to be attracting droves of artists to streaming video services.