July 24, 2018 / 10:14 PM / 4 months ago

Amazon.com's film studio chief Ropell to depart

(Reuters) - Amazon.com Inc on Tuesday said Jason Ropell, the executive in charge of its film division, plans to leave the company, in what could signal a shift toward commercial projects and away from independent films.

The marquee of United Artists theater is seen during Amazon's premiere screening of the TV series "Transparent" at the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, California, September 15, 2014. REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian

Ropell, who oversaw the young movie studio’s first Oscar wins since taking the job in 2015, will stay with the company for several months to help with the transition and strategy, the world’s largest online retailer said.

Ted Hope and Matt Newman will both run the division as interim co-heads while the company searches for a replacement, Amazon said.

Until now, Jennifer Salke, Amazon Studios’ chief who was hired in February, had largely made personnel changes related to the company’s television programming. The move on Tuesday highlights Salke’s interest in reviewing the direction of Amazon’s film slate as well.

Ropell helped the streaming media service capture its first Academy Awards in 2017 for the drama “Manchester by the Sea,” which won two Oscars.

Amazon’s “The Big Sick” was an Oscar nominee this year, and another project championed by Ropell, the upcoming film “Beautiful Boy” starring actor Steve Carell, has already generated Oscar buzz for 2019.

While artistic fare put Amazon on the map in Hollywood and helped it attract top talent, the company is increasingly seeking a wider audience as it pursues its central business goal: attracting more members to Prime, its subscription-based video streaming and shopping club.

Amazon’s 100 million Prime members globally buy more goods on average than those who are not in the club, which in the United States costs $119 per year.

Reuters reported earlier this year that Amazon expected to go after films with budgets in the $50 million range at the expense of indie projects costing around $5 million.

Ropell’s departure could accelerate that shift.

Changes to Amazon’s TV lineup are already under way. Amazon last year announced it will make a prequel to the fantasy drama “The Lord of the Rings,” in what some viewed as an attempt to rival HBO’s global hit “Game of Thrones.”

Reporting by Jeffrey Dastin in San Francisco, editing by G Crosse

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