Amazon cozies up to video publishers with marketing and tech support — and cash

Amazon wants video publishers and creators to distribute their work on its streaming platform. And it’s providing free marketing and technical support — and in some cases, financial incentives — to make that happen.

Video publishers and creators have two primary ways to self-distribute on Amazon Prime: the Amazon Video Direct program, which allows publishers of all sizes to upload videos to the Prime subscription platform (as well as sell it directly through the Prime video store); and the Amazon Channels program, which allows media companies to sell their subscription services as add-on channels. Both are proving to be early revenue drivers for participants.

In addition to new revenue, Amazon is also providing internal support for its partners. The company has teams dedicated to both programs, with reps assigned to assisting publishing partners. (Amazon declined to specify the size of these teams.)

Within the Amazon Channels program, Amazon is taking on a lot of the marketing and infrastructure costs that go into building and maintaining a streaming video channel. Publishers can advertise their channels, but Amazon will regularly promote different subscription channels or video titles across its platform, including and IMDb.

“It starts as a distribution relationship, but out of that it evolves as we develop and define different marketing and strategic partnerships,” said Mark Garner, svp of distribution and digital content licensing for A+E Networks.

Amazon also integrates the channels that Prime customers have subscribed to within the Prime user interface. For instance, if a Prime customer has subscribed to Cinedigm’s Docurama — which focuses on documentary films and nonfiction shows — they will see titles from the channel right underneath featured films and shows, new releases and Amazon’s own original series.

“It puts the channels right in the midst of when someone is browsing through Prime,” said Erick Opeka, evp of digital networks for Cinedigm, which sells three subscription channels on Prime. “It’s not like you’re subscribed to a channel and unless you go into the app, you forget about it. Amazon’s designed it so that you’re constantly reminded that you’re a subscriber.”

For streaming channel partners, Amazon is also removing the burden of billing and the tech and infrastructure costs that go into building and maintaining dozens (or hundreds) of apps for different streaming TV devices.

“Currently, when customers want to watch a show, they must navigate through multiple apps or subscribe to large cable TV packages, requiring multiple accounts and extra work to find what they want,” said Rich Au, head of content acquisition for the Amazon Channels program, in a statement. “Specific to our partners, Amazon Channels is unique in that we’re handling all of the billing and customer service for them, as well as managing compatibility across hundreds of devices.”

For its work, Amazon takes a cut of subscription dollars generated through its program. As sources have previously told Digiday, the deals vary, with Amazon typically taking 30-40 percent of subscription channel revenue.

“Because they’re leveraging their existing customer base, we don’t have any operational costs of running and maintaining an app,” said Opeka. “The one downside is that you do lose that direct relationship with the customer, but the revenue potential and the ease with which you can access new customers outweigh the risks, especially in the early stages when you’re trying to grow subscribers.”

The Video Direct self-distribution program is a big initiative for Amazon as it looks to recruit more digital publishers and video creators to distribute through Prime. And any time a platform is out with a big initiative, it goes on a charm offensive — just look at how Amazon is working with publishers on Amazon Echo.

Within Video Direct, publishing partners have landing pages for all of their uploaded videos. Individual titles and themed collections are also regularly featured within the regular Prime browsing experience — amped up by an algorithm that delivers suggestions based on the user’s preferences and viewing history. This can help older videos find new life: A 10-episode short-form series comedy studio Jash produced with actress Jenny Slate in 2013 was uploaded to Amazon last summer and became one of the top-performing digital series on Prime — right around the time “The Secret Life of Pets” (starring Slate) was in theaters.

For Video Direct partners, Amazon also makes additional money available through a $1 million monthly bonus pool, which pays out to media partners based on the top-performing titles during that month.

“Revenue per view, especially if you’re a bonus performer, can be much higher and above and beyond what you’re making on YouTube,” said one longtime YouTube creator.

One area Amazon can improve is in providing deeper analytics. For both the Amazon Channels and Video Direct programs, Amazon provides a dashboard with reports on subscribers, number of minutes streamed per title and projected revenue.

“It’s not nearly as robust as YouTube in visualizing analytics and being able to get more granular with the data,” said the YouTube creator. “You also can’t do comparative analysis [against other Video Direct partners or platform-wide benchmarks] at this point.”

Still, Video Direct partners describe channel reps as being more responsive and supportive than some other platforms.

“They will send regular updates with tips to improve performance; they’ll include us in their initiatives and look to prop us up by inviting us to go speak on panels with them at Sundance,” said Mickey Meyer, co-founder of the Sarah Silverman-backed Jash. “They have been, more so than YouTube and some others, out to help us.”

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