💍 ... Comes Great Responsibility...
I'm a more-ardent-than-average Tolkien fan. I've read The Silmarillion. I've read Lord of the Rings multiple times--and in fact am in the middle of yet another re-read. I've pondered the lore, studied the weird details like what happened to the other palantíri or why Aragorn is heir to both Gonder and Arnor. I'm not like a Stephen Colbert level of Tolkien nerd, but I'm up there. So I want you to keep that in mind as I ask the following question:
Why does The Rings of Power exist?
I don't mean from a storytelling perspective. That's easy. Does it need to exist? Of course not. Does Amazon have the rights to the source material that would be necessary to tell the story properly? Hellz no. But is it nonetheless attached to a widely-beloved property and people will watch it anyway just so they can participate in the discourse? Certainly. And does it offer new filmmakers and artists a chance to offer a compelling and unique perspective on this property? Kinda, I guess. In short, it has all the hallmarks of a project no one asked for but someone will probably watch anyway. And it's easy enough to dismiss storytelling nonsense if there's a business reason.
But that's honestly where I'm getting hung up. What's the business reason for this?
Let's back up a little. Something that came to light a few months ago--when Netflix's stock dropped and Warner/Discovery brought in David Zaslav to condense their streaming services--is that streaming is not a particularly lucrative business model. Netflix is talking about having ad-supported tiers now, Apple+ and Prime Video are loss centers for their owners, and even Disney+ is projected to start turning a profit in 2024. Once more for the kids in the cheap seats: That's right, the wildly ambitious and successful Disney+ is not going to start earning money for its parent company for another year and a half!
So why is Amazon of all companies going all-in on prestige television to the tune of half a billion dollars per season for a show that they plan to do five more seasons of? And that's just for The Rings of Power. They're also doing seven more seasons of The Wheel of Time. Both of these are huge epic-fantasy shows, meaning you have to spend gobs of money on visual effects--and WoT still looks chintzy as hell. What is the purpose? As mentioned above, Prime Video is a loss center for Amazon. It's a nice-to-have that's automatically included in Prime. It's not like Game of Thrones driving HBO subscriptions or Hamilton driving Disney+. Most of the people that have Prime Video didn't get it on purpose.
The obvious argument is prestige. You make a prestigious show so people will talk about your network, and even if it doesn't get you that many new customers, it increases goodwill with the customers you have and maybe prevents attrition. You can make that argument. But there are cheaper properties out there. Netflix's The Crown and Apple+'s Severance are huge prestige shows and their budgets are roughly one quarter of what Amazon is spending on The Rings of Power. Plus, they don't get saddled with the baggage of being endlessly compared to one of the most successful film trilogies of the last few decades.
Long story short, this does not feel sustainable to me. Not unless Amazon is planning to spin off Prime Video as its own entity, and even that feels dicey. Or, who knows, maybe it purely is a half-billion dollar vanity project. But if I were betting real money, I would say we're not going to see all six seasons of this Middle-Earthean boondoggle.
That's what I think, anyway,