Amazon’s $1Bn China Strategy: “The Three-Body Problem’

Amazon Studios is rumored to be earmarking $1BnUSD to acquire the rights and produce three seasons of the breakout science fiction trilogy by Liu Cixin The Three-Body Problem.

By Ryan Carroll, Editor-at-Large

April, 2018.

OK, let us look at this from a financial standpoint. To just make things simple let us say that HBO has spent $100MMUSD per season of its hit series Game of ThronesGoT will be finishing its run next year with its eighth and final season, making the overall spend of the hit VFX heavy fantasy series around $800MM over a decade of being produced.

Amazon Studios is rumored to be earmarking $1BnUSD to acquire the rights and produce three seasons of the breakout science fiction trilogy by Liu Cixin The Three-Body Problem. Arguably the most known work of fiction to come out of China since the Monkey King. A novel series that was even on Obama’s reading list, and represents modern Chinese sci-fi not just to the Chinese themselves but the entire world.

A novel series that immediately was acquired by Chinese gaming developer Youzu Interactive Chairman Lin Qi, and its subsidiary YooZoo Pictures holds the film and television rights to. Rights to which, they have already produced one film based on the first novel of The Three-Body Problem trilogy. A film that was shot back in 2015, and is still in post production to this day.

Not a good sign, for a beloved piece of fandom.

Basically think of it this way, if Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings came out looking like Courtney Solomon’s Dungeons & Dragons featuring none other than Marlon Wayans, than Fellowship of the Ring with Sir Ian McKellen. Then you would have what is rumored to be the film version of The Three-Body Problem.

Needless to say that, YooZoo Picture’s The Three-Body Problem film has not seen the light of day. Much like Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four film of the 90s. A perfect opportunity for a company like Amazon Studios to pick up for its Amazon Prime subscription streaming service?

Maybe not….

As I pointed out above HBO has spent less-than $800MM over 76 episodes of its dragon / white walker heavy FX series GoT, so the need to spend $1Bn is inflated and unnecessary. If Amazon is really looking to fork-out $1Bn for a single Chinese adapted three-season series, there has to be more going on.

The main issue Amazon would face, is distributing the content in China. As foreign streaming platforms are not allowed in China without a local partner, and even though Amazon Prime is technically in China. Only its next day shipping service that is available there, and not the OTT platform. So that means, no Man in the High Castle or The Tickstreaming in the Middle Kingdom.

Amazon has been making a big push into other Asian markets such as India, so if Amazon is considering making a series based on The Three-Body Problem then it must be apart of a larger China strategy. A strategy that its competition Netflix backed away from, as they knew it would cost them a minimum of $1BnUSD to enter the Chinese market.

A strategy that Netflix probably considered would only result in a sale-merger to one its local competition, similar to what we saw with Uber in China. By selling its Chinese service to Didi, while receiving shares in Didi’s worldwide operations, not just in China, in return. A strategic win for Uber, but not something that is apart of Netflix’s business approach worldwide.

Amazon Studios is said to be spending up-to $1BnUSD on a new Lord of the Rings epic series, so spending on this scale is not out of the question for this company. A company that does not rely on subscribers watching its OTT service, as its streaming platform is more of a bonus for its Prime users who use Amazon for its 2 day free shipping.

Let us be clear, The Three-Body Problem is not JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings epic, which incompasses The Hobbit and other works, if you really get down to the nitty gritty, and that may be what Amazon Studios is looking at. In its rumors to spend $1Bn dollars on One Ring To Rule Them All.

I am hesitant to believe the studio would spend $1BnUSD for a Chinese sci-fi property. The Chinese market though big, is not $1Bn big. Even China’s hottest new cinema genre Red Liberation Films that make buku bucks at the local box-office, on average only have budgets around $35MMUSD. A far cry from The Three-Body Problem‘s rumored budget.

I would not be surprised if Amazon does pick up the rights, maybe in partnership with YooZoo Pictures, and one of the established streaming platforms in China for worldwide release at a reasonable and standard production budget price.

If the $1BnUSD is truly earmarked, then it must be for a larger strategy of Chinese content to enter into the already entrenched Chinese OTT streaming platform market, where the likes of Baidu’s iQiyi, Tencent Video, and Alibaba Youku-Tudou are established players with real paying subscribers.

Stay tuned China Watchers, as I am sure there is more to this precious of a story to come.

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About the Author
Born and raised in the Missouri-Ozarks Ryan studied Film Production, and East Asian Culture, at the University of Kansas where he was a UGRA recipient that led him on a seven-year long, Journey From the West, to China. Where he worked with Warner Brothers, the China Film Group Corp. and the National Bureau of Statistics of China. Before returning to the States, where he specializes in Chinese Anime & Comics, China’s Box-Office, and Chinese entertainment-tech industries. He has a dog in China, Abigail, and a dog in the Arkansas-Ozarks, King Blue, who help ease his anxiety of suffering from the “Two-Dimensional Complex” that is trying to understand the Culture Industry landscapes of the Middle Kingdom.