26th May 2021
The Amazon takeover of MGM raises a lot of questions about the future of James Bond
By MI6 Staff
MGM has agreed to a takeover by Amazon for $8.45b. MGM owns 50% of the rights to the cinematic James Bond. The other half is owned by Danjaq (ran by Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson), who in turn own EON Productions who make the films.
What happens to 'No Time To Die'?
MI6 understands that no changes will be made to the planned release schedule (September 30th in the UK and October 8th in the USA) through the existing theatrical distribution deals. This is assuming cinemas will be open to the level currently expected. Of course, a significant change of wind direction on the COVID-19 pandemic or other crisis would put that release date at risk, as it would any other film planned for late 2021. It is understood that Danjaq would block any attempt to bypass a traditional theatrical release.
How about after the film is out in cinemas?
That is where things may get more interesting. MGM recently cut a deal with CBS/Paramount to have 'No Time To Die' (and other new MGM titles) debut on the Paramount+ streaming service. Meanwhile, Universal and other distributors have negotiated with major cinema chains to reduce the traditional 90-day theatrical exclusivity window down to as low as 17 days. MGM may have break clauses in such streaming agreements if a change of ownership takes place, or they pay a pre-agreed penalty clause. The Amazon takeover may not be complete by October if regulatory approvals take time, anyway, but it is unlikely that Amazon will want to see 'No Time To Die' make its streaming debut on Paramount+.
We'll be seeing Bond 26 really soon, now, right?
Probably not. Although MGM's financial uncertainty has been behind many of the delays of James Bond films in the 21st century, EON has not been rushed to produce James Bond films on a regular schedule, either. One recent notable example was EON waiting an entire year for Sam Mendes to be available to accept an offer to direct 'SPECTRE'. Also, Barbara Broccoli has increased her non-Bond production output, whether it be on stage or with small-budget films, and this is unlikely to change. The series will need a reboot after the departure of Daniel Craig following his record-breaking tenure. EON as a production company is not equipped to deal with more than one major project at a time in the same way that other major franchises have been run under bigger studios. Amazon will likely want to green-light a multi-film deal with EON on a fixed timeline, neither of which is well suited to EON's current modus operandi. It could be a source of friction. The good news is that securing the budget will not be a problem anymore.
I can't wait for the Felix Leiter spin-off series!
Not so fast... With Danjaq maintaining veto power over creative decisions, they can not be forced into producing anything Amazon may want. Shortly after the deal announcement, Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson gave a statement to Variety: "We are committed to continuing to make James Bond films for the worldwide theatrical audience." Although this immediately pertains to 'No Time To Die', one may read between the lines that they are reticent to move away from the blockbuster cinema format and will likely push back at attempts to create streaming series based on spin-off IP.
Why doesn't Amazon just buy the other 50% of rights from Danjaq?
Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson don't need the money. If they sell their 50% of the James Bond rights to Amazon, giving Amazon complete control, they will have little leverage in the entertainment industry as a tiny production company that produces loss-making Indie films. It is possible that Amazon cuts a deal with EON to green-light a schedule of James Bond films in return for funding pet projects.
Will Amazon stop releasing physical media for James Bond films?
Despite what some commentators have claimed, it is unlikely that Amazon will cease to produce Blu-Ray and DVD releases for the James Bond series. Amazon has sold physical releases of their original content, after all, they own the predominant platform to sell media, and want to reach all potential customers, not just those with Prime and broadband Internet connectivity. Amazon will own the right to decide on home entertainment releases going forward, as that was MGM's right.
What else could we see?
We can probably expect to see a James Bond branded landing page on Amazon in the near future, showcasing all of the content and products they have available. Amazon may release the special content and documentaries from the past home media releases on to Prime. There is a chance too that James Bond Jr may be resurrected as Amazon will own the rights to distribute the series (Barbara Broccoli is understood to have been the force keeping the show from being released since its initial syndication run in the early 1990s).
Will James Bond still be on TV?
ITV currently holds the UK broadcast rights to the James Bond series, after a brief blip in 2012 when Sky landed a one-year deal with MGM. This will also be in the remit of Amazon going forward. As with most decisions, it will be a matter of economics. Does the TV revenue outweigh the value of having the series exclusive to Prime? Rights in the USA are more complicated due to MGM owning EPIX and Sony having a part in the Daniel Craig era (which is why some US TV marathons only run-up to 'Die Another Day'). Historically, television has been a major on-ramp to new fans of the franchise. Putting behind the Prime paywall may limit the discovery by new young fans, which is what every franchise wants.
What happens to the merchandise?
This is a grey area. A deal was struck with a third-party company in recent years to run the 007 Store, which according to Danjaq's public company filings, was a significant licencing deal for all involved. It has had a mixed reaction with the fan base due to its high-priced items and obscure items. Amazon has not been strong on merchandizing its existing original IP, but that could change with MGM's back-catalogue. As it stands, Danjaq still approves all products.
Isn't there a new game coming out?
IO Interactive closed a deal to produce an original James Bond videogame last year. MI6 understands a release is not expected until 2023. With Netflix thought to be making a move into the gaming industry, Amazon could swoop in and buy IO Interactive to bring it all under one roof.
If the news of Amazon taking over MGM does not fill you with glee, you can hold on to the date of 2035. This is when the character of James Bond, as created by Ian Fleming, goes into the public domain. Assuming copyright law does not get changed between then and now, creators will be free to use the character of James Bond (and any other characters created by Ian Fleming in the books) for their own projects.