In a high-level management change, Amazon has hired Mike Hopkins, a respected Sony television executive, to oversee the tech giant’s entire video entertainment business: Prime Video and Amazon Studios.
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 is leaving the Seattle-based company on a sabbatical. 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, appeared interested in bringing in an entertainment industry veteran to grow the company’s international footprint and bolster his Culver City-based television and film studio.
“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.”
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.
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 the spending spree produced mixed results. “Late Night” and “Brittany Runs a Marathon” floundered at theaters. The studio’s awards hopefuls, including “The Report” and “The Aeronauts,” were largely absent from this year’s Oscars conversation.
Amazon executives have sought to downplay its theatrical flops, saying its slate has performed well on the Prime Video streaming service, where maintaining customer relationships is key. Amazon has remained an active buyer at Sundance this year, acquiring Alan Ball’s “Uncle Frank” for a reported $12 million.
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 been one of Bezos’ top lieutenants since 2006. A former investment banker, Blackburn helped guide Amazon’s successful IPO in 1997 and joined the Seattle-based company the following year.
Before running Sony Pictures Television, Hopkins was the chief executive of Hulu when the video streaming service was pulled in different directions by its then-consortium of owners. Sony Pictures Entertainment Chairman Tony Vinciquerra recruited Hopkins to be a stabilizing force in Sony Pictures Television, particularly after the devastating cyber hack in 2014. In some quarters, Hopkins was seen as an eventual successor to Vinciquerra.
Hopkins ran distribution at Fox before joining Hulu.
“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.
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.
Under Salke’s leadership, Amazon focused on shows that would resonate with international audiences such as a program based on “The Lord of the Rings” universe and fantasy thriller “Carnival Row.”
In January at the Television Critics Assn.’s winter tour in Pasadena, Salke said she believed the original content strategy was paying off. “Our international focus on entertaining and delighting customers all over the world has helped increase that membership,” Salke said. “It’s about global expansion with a carefully curated focus.”
Staff writer Ryan Faughnder contributed to this report.