Amazon.com Inc has bought the global television rights to “The Lord of the Rings,” the company said on Monday, in what may be its biggest and most expensive move yet to draw viewers to its streaming and shopping club Prime.
Amazon said it will produce a multi-season series that explores new storylines preceding author J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Fellowship of the Ring,” the first installment in the famed fantasy trilogy.
Three movies made of the trilogy in the early 2000s, filmed in New Zealand and based on Tolkien’s novels, garnered nearly $ 3 billion at the box office and 17 Academy Awards.
New Line Cinema, which distributed the film trilogy, the Tolkien Estate and Trust, and publisher HarperCollins will work with Amazon to produce the television series.
Amazon did not say how much it was paying for the rights.
The project underscores a shift in Amazon’s video programming. Its studio started in 2010 with a focus on unique shows beloved by critics, such as “Transparent,” about a father coming out as transgender to his family.
That was a winning formula for attracting Hollywood talent, awards and buzz, though not Prime subscribers around the world.
Now, Amazon is looking for a dramatic show that could be a hit globally, much like HBO’s popular fantasy series “Game of Thrones.”
This puts Amazon in uncharted territory, with higher-than-usual production costs expected so it can transport viewers to Middle Earth.
Amazon justifies its spending on programming as a way to draw new sign-ups to Prime, whose members buy more goods more often from the world’s largest online retailer.
“Amazon is committed to producing super high quality, recognized, branded entertainment,” said Wedbush Securities industry analyst Michael Pachter. “That’s a departure from shows like “Transparent” and “Catastrophe.””
“By definition this will be expensive,” he added.
(Reporting by Jeffrey Dastin in San Francisco, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)