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Why Amazon’s road to the Bond millions is part of a bigger plan

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by Tim Mulligan

Earlier this month, Amazon released 007: Road to a Million onto Amazon Prime Video (Prime) – its subscription video on demand (SVOD) service. As the biggest investment into an unscripted reality show since The Grand Tour, it represents Amazon’s first serious attempt to exploit the James Bond IP since its acquisition of MGM in March 2022. The show revolves around contestants competing to win £1 million in prize money through a series of Bond inspired spy challenges in iconic locations used in the films. Presenting (and channelling the James Bond arch villain stereotype) is Brian Cox, fresh from his Golden Globe winning performance as Logan Roy in HBO’s SuccessionCox plays the “the controller” and sets the challenging tasks for the contestants as they seek to progress through the show.

Despite the underlying IP, talent, and set locations, 007: Road to a Million is yet to connect with critics and viewers alike, scoring low ratings on the UK’s BARB audiences TV viewing measures. This has been inflated by detractors as being a sign of underperformance for the show. However, professional critics and ratings systems designed primarily for broadcast TV (rather than streaming TVare not the best judge of return on investment for Amazon in this case. This is primarily due to Amazon being in a phase of streaming TV brand-building.

007: Road to a Million is part of Amazon’s larger streaming TV brand strategy

Amazon’s $8.45 billion acquisition of MGM represented a clear move by Amazon to repurpose its streaming service from a video add-on to its core ecommerce business into a substitutive streaming TV alternative for Prime members. Key to that process is creating a sufficiently broad range of content assets beyond the existing film and scripted drama library that has formed the bulk of traditional SVOD content offerings. Alongside expanding into tier one sports coverage (i.e., the $11 billion investment in NFL coverage), Amazon has been busy building up its creative reputation among show runners and figuring out how best to optimise the IP windfall generated by the MGM acquisition of which The Lord of the Rings and James Bond are the key assets. 

To judge the success of Amazon’s multi-year streaming TV strategy on the back of its first foray into James Bond IP development is to miss the point – reality TV is an early step into learning how to exploit an IP with deep loyalty and multiple vested interests. Getting it right with the first season was always going to be a big ask and would have been a nice bonus for the Prime team. What has been, and will continue to be, of far greater strategic importance is learning how to market and build wider brand awareness for mainstream consumers. Ultimately, James Bond is being rebranded as a digital entertainment asset, with 007: Road to a Million being the first creative step in a journey to a larger brand impact-led destination. 

No surprise then that Amazon has ignored the critics and has already approved season two of 007: Road to a Million…

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Amazon's 007 strategy shows its aim is to transform Prime Video into a major streaming service, not just an add-on to its ecommerce business. Also by using a reality TV format, Amazon shows it is ready to innovate. The focus not being just on immediate success.