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Amazon taps Hollywood veteran Mike Hopkins to bolster studio and Prime Video

Mike Hopkins starts his job as senior vice president of Prime Video and Amazon Studios on Feb. 24.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

In a high-level management change, Amazon has hired Mike Hopkins, a respected Sony television executive, to oversee the tech giant’s video entertainment business.

Hopkins will report directly to Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and chairman, as the multibillionaire founder becomes increasingly involved in Hollywood. Hopkins replaces Jeffrey Blackburn, who last year announced that he was taking a one-year sabbatical from the Seattle-based company, beginning in early 2020. Hopkins starts his new job as senior vice president for Prime Video and Amazon Studios on Feb. 24.

Bezos, who attended Sunday’s 92nd Academy Awards ceremony, is tapping an entertainment industry veteran to grow the company’s international footprint and its Culver City-based television and film studio. Bezos once famously said, “We want to win an Oscar,” and Amazon Studios’ film “Manchester by the Sea” scored two Oscar wins in 2017 — for lead actor (Casey Affleck) and original screenplay (Kenneth Lonergan). But its more recent efforts have been mixed.

“Mike comes to us with over 20 years of industry experience at Fox, Hulu, and Sony,” Blackburn said in an email to his Amazon staff. “He has an extensive track record as a global business leader in media, film and TV — negotiating landmark content and distribution agreements, running marketing operations, leading product/tech teams, and overseeing production of breakthrough television content.”

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Amazon Studios has been led by Jen Salke for two years, and she now will report to Hopkins. She had reported to Blackburn, who has long been one of Bezos’ top lieutenants. A former investment banker, Blackburn helped guide Amazon’s successful IPO in 1997 and joined the Seattle-based company a year later. Greg Hart, vice president at Prime Video, also now reports to Hopkins.

The company has produced critically acclaimed TV shows, including “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “Fleabag” and “A Very English Scandal.” Amazon won seven Emmy Awards last year, including four for “Fleabag,” including best comedy.

The studio made an aggressive push into the film business last year, buying the rights to five movies at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival for $46 million. But “Late Night” and “Brittany Runs a Marathon” foundered at theaters, along with “Life Itself,” which was released in 2018. The studio’s latest round of awards hopefuls, including “The Report” and “The Aeronauts,” were largely absent from this year’s Oscars conversation.

Amazon executives have noted that its movies performed well on the Prime Video streaming service. Amazon views Prime Video as an extension of its $119 annual Prime membership, which includes free shipping on retail orders as one of its main draws.

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Executives said that Mindy Kaling’s “Late Night,” “Brittany Runs a Marathon” and “The Report” were among the best-performing original movies on the service. However, Amazon doesn’t release viewership information, making it difficult for outsiders to gauge the popularity of individual shows.

“We don’t evaluate our movie performance based on theatrical tickets sold,” Salke said in a talk last fall at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills. “Everything we do is to enhance or drive Prime subscriptions.”

Amazon has remained an active buyer at Sundance this year, acquiring Alan Ball’s “Uncle Frank” for a reported $12 million. The company has focused on a curated approach to its movies, unlike its rival Netflix, which has spent heavily to generate a large volume of original films, including Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman.” Last year, Amazon released nine original films, compared with Netflix’s output of 58 English-language original movies.

Hopkins joined Sony Pictures Television in late 2017 from Hulu. Sony Pictures Entertainment Chairman Tony Vinciquerra recruited Hopkins to run Sony Pictures Television and be a stabilizing force after more than a year of turmoil following a devastating cyberhack in 2014. Hopkins streamlined Sony’s TV operation and took steps to strengthen the company’s international channels business.

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Hopkins served as chief executive of Hulu when the video streaming service was pulled in different directions by its then-consortium of owners. During his tenure, Hulu grew to more than 45 million viewers and bolstered its stature with an Emmy Award for a drama series, “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

Before joining Hulu, Hopkins ran television distribution at Fox.

“Under his watch, SPT has been transformed into a stronger and more nimble organization, able to pivot and change course quickly in today’s rapidly evolving entertainment landscape,” Vinciquerra said in an email to Sony employees.

Salke joined Amazon in early 2018 after her predecessor, Roy Price, resigned after he was accused of sexual harassment.

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Price was instrumental in launching Amazon’s original productions, focusing on edgy, artsy programs, including “Manchester by the Sea.” Amazon under Price also launched series such as “Transparent,” as well as educational shows geared toward preschoolers. Amazon has since abandoned its efforts to produce original children’s programming.

Amazon now focuses on shows that will resonate with international audiences, such as a program based on the “Lord of the Rings” universe and fantasy thriller “Carnival Row.”

As part of the changes, Keith LeGoy, Sony Television’s president of worldwide distribution, will also oversee Sony’s Funimation unit, network operations, programming and strategy. Jeff Frost, president of U.S. production, will run original television productions, Embassy Row and a new game show development team.

Times staff writer Ryan Faughnder contributed to this report.


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