Last year, Amazon Studios head Roy Price was fired by the tech giant amid a sexual-harassment scandal. On Saturday, Jennifer Salke, the highly regarded executive whose job it is to plot a new course for Amazon’s entertainment division, discussed the company’s future.
Appearing at the Television Critics Association press tour with Amazon co-heads of television Albert Cheng and Vernon Sanders, Salke trumpeted her team’s diversity.
“I came from NBCUniversal with Vernon, where 10 of my direct reports, seven of them were diverse, six of them were women. So for me it was just part of how I surround myself with creative people and different types of voices and the smartest people, frankly.”
NBC veteran Sanders joined Amazon in May — three months after Salke came aboard as Amazon Studios chief — partnering with Cheng as co-head of TV, reporting to Salke. “You can tell when talent comes to the room and they’re caught off guard when someone who looks like them is in a position like this,” Sanders said. “It shifts the dynamics.”
Amazon has set a number of high-profile talent agreements since Salke came aboard — committing Barry Jenkins to direct the entire run of his series adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad,” and signing Jordan Peele and Nicole Kidman to first-look TV deals.
Asked about competitors, such as Netflix, Salke said, “I think it’s really important to think of us as an alternative to some of those places. We are looking at our home at Culver Studios as a real home from talent. We come from background, I certainly come from a background of having great creative partnerships with tentpole creators.” She added, “We’re going to build a more curated group of creators and artists who can be part of our family at Amazon.”
Salke also acknowledged longstanding complaints about Amazon’s user interface for video, and promised that significant changes to the platform are forthcoming. “I was on the side of criticizing some of that as well,” Salke said of Amazon’s interface. But, she added, company brass in Seattle recently gave her a phone with a prototype of a new user interface being developed. “It’s much more intuitive. I find it to be sort of seamless.”
Salke promised that the new interface would roll out soon, but did not offer specifics. “It’s lining up with the investment that we’re trying to do. They wanted the best UI possible.”
Under Price, Amazon famously had a development process in which pilots would be posted online and user ratings would supposedly be factored into decisions about which series would be picked up.
That process is no longer in effect.
“Right now that version of it is not something that we’re doing,” Salke said. “But you will see us investing in pilots.” She noted that the company recently announced three pilots. “We will use our own testing and baromoters and some audience driven data to make decisions. But the public voting process” has will not be continued.
Cheng added that under the previous system, “What ends up happening is it ends up taking way too long to get the actual season.”
Salke also addressed the future of Jill Soloway’s “Transparent.” “We are planning a season five of the show. What form it takes, we haven’t quite announced yet, but it exists, and we’re very excited about it.” Salke also teased Soloway’s next project. “Jill came in with what she’s excited about beyond ‘Transparent, and I think you can stay tuned in the next week or two to hear more about what that is. It’s something that we’re incredibly excited about.”