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Amazon seems to be in damage control mode since the premiere of The Rings of Power. The tricks that Jeff Bezos’ company has resorted to in order to pretend that the series is a success -when more and more evidence points to the fact that it is actually a failure-, would be a symptom of the nervousness and doubts that exist in the company regarding one of its riskiest bets.
Amazon has spent around $450 million to make the first season of The Rings of Power a reality. Adding the $250 million from the purchase of the rights to part of Tolkien’s work, and what will be spent on the next seasons, it could mean a total investment of more than a billion dollars.
However, what should have been an overwhelming success with a great cultural impact that everyone would talk about, seems to be passing with more pain than glory.
Despite Amazon’s apparent maneuvers to simulate a huge success of The Rings of Power, more and more authorized voices are questioning the figures provided by the company and the quality of the series itself.
According to Insider, Tom Forte, an analyst at consulting firm D.A. Davidson and a specialist in Jeff Bezos’ company, said in a recent note to investors that “we fell asleep during our first viewings of episodes one, three, and four and have not watched episode five yet due to a combination of not enjoying the first four episodes and a busy schedule.”
The analyst expected that during the first few episodes of The Rings of Power the rating of the series would be low, due to the fact that the first to watch and review it would be the more purist and critical Tolkien fans, but that as the series progressed and casual viewers became involved, the rating would improve.
However, this has not happened, according to Forte, “nearly one month after its September 1 launch and five episodes in on an eight-episode season, the audience response (as measured by Rotten Tomatoes) is far worse than we initially expected (as suggested by the critics’ warm reception) and is not improving (as we had, initially, anticipated).”
Forte’s analysis makes it clear that there is a big difference between what the specialized critics think and what its performance among the audience has been, the latter being, after all, the true indicator of success or failure of The Rings of Power.
Forte’s reflections suggest that the opinion of specialized critics could be adulterated, as it suspiciously coincides with Amazon’s wishes, especially when the company seems to have taken a series of questionable measures to make up for the disaster.
During the first days of the premiere, Amazon placed an embargo on the opinions and reviews of The Rings of Power. According to Amazon, this measure would be, on the one hand, to protect from spoilers, and on the other hand, to avoid “review bombing”, that is, for people who had not seen it to evaluate it negatively in an orchestrated way to lower its initial score.
However, according to multiple testimonies from those affected, Amazon itself and its own entertainment sites such as IMDb, kept this measure in place long after the premiere, in order to hide the negative reviews and scores.
It also doesn’t help that, unlike the traditional theatrical box office counting method, streaming services have hardly any transparency in their audience figures, and we simply have to rely on the numbers they offer on a leap of faith.
According to Amazon, The Rings of Power “continues to be the most-watched show worldwide on Prime Video, breaking all previous viewing records.”
However, according to their note to investors, Tom Forte asserts that “if we work off of Amazon’s reported figures of 25 million viewers for the launch and an audience of 200 million Prime members who engage with Prime Video, we come up with the following: 12.5% penetration (or 87.5% lack of interest).”
“If we marry the audience score, then we get the following: 9.5 million viewers liked it (38% of 25 million) suggesting 4.75% penetration (95.25% did not like it and or are not interested in it)”, Tom Forte pointed out. “So as much as 95.25% of Prime members may not be happy about paying $20 more per year for Prime because of Amazon’s content spending, including LOTR.”
Amazon’s bad decisions with The Rings of Power
The coldness of these numbers contrasts with the message of euphoria that Amazon insists on transmitting, and it seems increasingly evident that Jeff Bezos’ bet on adapting Tolkien has been a succession of bad decisions, from its gestation until now when the first season is about to end.
The lack of quality of The Rings of Power was suspected from the beginning. First of all, the fact that the production of the series was delayed until the death of Christopher Tolkien, son of J.R.R. Tolkien and custodian of his legacy, was interpreted as Amazon thinking of making radical changes that were not going to please the lovers of the professor’s work.
These suspicions began to be confirmed when Amazon fired Tom Shippy, one of the foremost academic experts on Tolkien, after he warned the creators of The Rings of Power that they were “polluting the lore” of the work. This dismissal was compounded by Amazon’s ignoring Peter Jackson, creator of the successful Lord of the Rings trilogy at the turn of the century, and putting the series in the hands of two showrunners with little prior experience.
As the premiere of The Rings of Power approached, all of Amazon’s marketing focused on exalting the diversity and inclusivity of the series, with little mention of the plot or the characters, other than to insist that they were “racialized characters” played by actors from supposedly oppressed minorities.
Another public relations maneuver that sowed great doubts among fans was that, in order to advertise the series, Amazon decided to hire what they called “superfans”, who were really just influencers with a huge following on social networks, with hardly had any knowledge of Tolkien, although they now present themselves as the greatest experts on his work.
To top off this succession of catastrophic PR decisions, Amazon’s only response to informed criticism has been to accuse the detractors of being racists, misogynists, and homophobes. That Amazon is not engaging in self-criticism or listening to its audience in an attempt to improve the series is serious, but that it has also taken a belligerent attitude and engaged in insulting its customers should be of serious concern to its investors.
Tom Forte’s note to investors may be a wake-up call to Amazon, which should probably start to clean up its act and make a change in its strategy for the next seasons of The Rings of Power, both in production and public relations.
While we wait to see if that happens or not, the truth is that The Rings of Power can be considered a failure for Amazon, especially if we compare it with its great competitor this year, HBO’s The House of the Dragon, which does nothing but grow in audience and rating.
Ignacio Manuel García Medina, Business Management teacher. Artist and lecturer specialized in Popular Culture for various platforms. Presenter of the program "Pop Libertario" for the Juan de Mariana Institute. Lives in the Canary Islands, Spain // Ignacio M. García Medina es profesor de Gestión de Empresas. Es miembro del Instituto Juan de Mariana y conferenciante especializado en Cultura Popular e ideas de la Libertad.
Social Networks: @ignaciomgm