Like its fellow streaming services, Amazon doesn’t make its viewership figures public. Because of that, the company’s decisions on which of its original series to renew and cancel can seem arbitrary.
A story by Reuters, however, sheds at least a little light on how Amazon makes TV and its decision-making process in what to keep around. It obtained internal Amazon documents detailing the budgets of several series and a cost-per-subscriber metric the company uses to evaluate shows.
A couple of caveats: The Reuters story does not contain much information on the audiences for Amazon shows, and it’s unclear whether what data is there is a show’s average minute audience (which is the Nielsen standard for traditional TV) or another kind of measurement. The numbers are also about a year old, as the documents cover a period from late 2014 to early 2017.
Amazon declined comment on the Reuters story.
The documents say about 26 million people streamed movies and TV shows (both original and acquired) on Amazon in the early part of 2017. Amazon has never said how many Prime members it has; estimates range widely from 65 million to 90 million.
Reuters reports the documents claim 5 million Prime subscribers were drawn in by Amazon’s original series in the roughly 2 1/2 years ending in early 2017. How that figure was calculated isn’t clear in the documents.
A source tells Reuters, however, that Amazon “credits a specific show for luring someone to start or extend a Prime subscription if that program is the first one a customer streams after signing up.”
The “first stream” metric factors into Amazon’s decision-making about which shows to keep. The first season of “The Man in the High Castle,” for instance, brought in 1.15 million new Prime subscribers against a budget of $72 million. That comes out to a “first stream” cost of about $63 per user.
Lower costs per user are better for Amazon, but of the 10 shows Reuters cites, only one, Season 1 of “The Grand Tour,” was lower at $49 per user.
What all 10 shows had in common was a big budget. The 10 shows in the study had an average production and marketing budget of $69.6 million, ranging from $37 million for Season 2 of “Mozart in the Jungle” to $107 million for Season 2 of “The Man in the High Castle.”
“Good Girls Revolt” had a budget of $81 million, according to the documents, but resulted in just 52,000 first streams. (The documents cite a “total audience” of 1.6 million for the show, but it’s unclear if that’s the average for every episode, the number of people who sampled the series, or something else.)
That works out to a first stream cost of $1,560 per user, the highest of any show cited in the documents. Season 1 of “Sneaky Pete” had the second-highest first stream cost at $959; it was renewed and launched its second season earlier this month.