“We can firmly say that Wheel of Time was the most watched series premiere of the year and one of the Top 5 series launches of all time for Prime Video,” Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke told Deadline about the debut, acknowledging that the company — like most streamers — “try to figure out how transparent we are going to be in the future” with ratings.
Prime Video is among the SVOD platforms that do not disclose viewership data but Salke revealed that “there were tens and tens of millions of streams” for The Wheel Of Time in the first three days of its release, with the US, India, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany as the top countries.
In an encouraging sign for The Wheel Of Time‘s longevity, the series also logged some of the highest completion rates on the service ever, Salke added. Additionally, according to third party TV-I, The Wheel of Time was the #1 series on social across all releases last weekend and is the biggest Amazon Original series on social this year.
With its solid debut, The Wheel of Time, starring Rosamund Pike, is living up to its strong pre-launch tracking. Parrot Analytics earlier this month released data showing The Wheel Of Time outpacing other recent new fantasy series, including Netflix’s hit The Witcher, in global pre-release demand, projecting that The Wheel of Time could have Prime Video’s biggest opening since the Season 2 premieres of The Boys in October 2020 and Indian original Mirzapur in November 2020. (Both The Wheel of Time and The Boys come from Sony Pictures Television, which co-produces them with Amazon Studios.)
Salke would not disclose further viewership information about The Wheel Of Time premiere but said that “it’s definitely trending to exceed our expectations which were high.”
Between Emmy-nominated comic book adaptation The Boys as Prime Video’s flagship U.S. drama, The Wheel Of Time‘s promising debut and the anticipated launch of The Lord of Rings, genre has emerged as a key programming area for the streamer and a continuing development focus.
One of the company’s newest hopefuls in the arena is Mass Effect. Amazon Studios is nearing a deal to develop a series based on the best-selling sci-fi video game franchise from Electronic Arts.
“You will see us continuing to invest in fantasy genre of all kinds, we have a genre-focused team on the ground in Studios who work tirelessly with our creative partners on those slates, and you can look forward to more,” Salke said.
The Wheel Of Time‘s successful launch, for which Salke also gave credit to Amazon Studios’ marketing and publicity teams, comes after a challenging year for Prime Video — and for virtually any linear and streaming networks — whose content pipelines were affected by the coronavirus pandemic. With production on many of its series delayed, including Emmy-winning comedy The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Amazon relied on movie acquisitions to keep circulation on the services and used the opportunity to cultivate new audiences with a mix of original series and movies.
“As we looked at the challenges that Covid presented with our slate, it was really important that we were creating big cultural moments globally around content,” Salke said. “We went out at the end of 2020 with Borat, and through 2021 increasing that momentum with our slate of originals. I’m so happy that we could get a slate of material underway with Coming to America, Without Remorse, Sylvie’s Love, One Night In Miami, Them: Covenant and Underground Railroad which we were able to schedule strategically within Covid to drive a new audience to Prime Video. We made significant improvements in making Black customers all over the world feel like Prime Video was a home for them which I’m exceptionally proud of.”
While movies like these as well as The Tomorrow War and Cinderella “kept our customers very much engaged on the service,” “I think we’ve all been looking forward to Wheel Of Time being the next big tentpole that we could get up on the service while we are still in this pandemic,” Salke said. “It is a bit of the door opening to the robust content slate that was delayed for so many different reasons all coming together in 2022 and 23.”
That includes the tentpole The Lord of the Rings, slated to premiere on Sept. 2, 2022. Amazon recently announced that production on Season 2 of the J.R.R. Tolkien series adaptation will be moving to the UK from New Zealand where Season 1 was filmed.
Salke had no updates on locations and production start date for Season 2 but said this about LOTR:
“All systems are go on that show, it looks absolutely incredible and we can’t wait to launch it to the world. We know our global audience is hungry for elevated fantasy and shows based on beloved IP; we see that with Wheel of Time, and Lord of the Rings will be the centerpiece of our year.”
A lot has been written about comments attributed to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos in fall 2017 about a Prime Video programming shift to go for big, tentpole series and find the new Game Of Thrones. It resulted in a slew of high-profile genre projects being put in development by the streamer around that time, including The Lord Of the Rings, The Boys and The Wheel of Time.
Salke remembered meeting with The Wheel Of Time creator Rafe Judkins and the Sony TV executives after she joined Amazon Studios in early 2018.
“It was so amazing to hear Rafe’s personal connection to it,” Salke recalled. “His mother, during a coming-of-age, challenging time for him, bonded with him over this book. It was this really important piece of storytelling that really informed him and his relationships with his family in a lot of ways. Clearly I knew – which we always look for — how passionate was he about this material, how well did he know it, and how much affection and love did he have for it. We greenlit [the series] off that meeting, and I wasn’t worried about it; I felt we were in really great hands with him on this beloved, huge property.”
While Salke acknowledges that, “as always with a beloved IP you could get some criticism about not staying exactly true to people’s vision of what the series should look like as it comes to life, we are in touch with the core fans of the novels and we know the majority of them are really excited and happy, it’s been really great,” she said.
The Wheel of Time was renewed for a second season in May 2021, months ahead of its series premiere. Production on Season 2 began in Prague, Czech Republic in July 2021, where the series is about halfway through principal photography on the new season.
“You should expect more of the high quality addictive storytelling that stays true to the original IP but also brings new original ideas and storylines,” Salke said about Season 2.
It is too early to discuss a potential early Season 3 renewal but it is a real possibility.
“Let’s get a little time under our feet but I have a good feeling the show will go on for years and years,” Salke said.
Based on Jordan’s novels, The Wheel of Time was adapted for television by executive producer/showrunner Judkins. Larry Mondragon and Rick Selvage of iwot productions, Mike Weber and Ted Field of Radar Pictures, Darren Lemke, Marigo Kehoe, and Uta Briesewitz will also serve as executive producers, with Briesewitz set to direct the first two episodes. Rosamund Pike serves as producer and Harriet McDougal and Brandon Sanderson as consulting producers. The Wheel of Time is co-produced by Amazon Studios and Sony Pictures Television.
Created by Casey Hudson, Drew Karpyshyn and Preston Watamaniuk, Mass Effect is a sci-fi action video game franchise developed by BioWare and Electronic Arts. The series launched in 2007 with the first Mass Effect game, which follows Systems Alliance Navy vet Commander Shepard who must fight against an ancient machine race that looks to invade the Milky Way. The franchise also includes the second and third installments of the Mass Effect trilogy and various spin-offs including mobile games and Mass Effect: Andromeda.
(Alexandra del Rosario contributed to this report.)