Seattle's a Fashion Industry Player

| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 

Seattle's high-tech, biotech and aerospace clusters are familiar to us all, but mention that the region also has an impressive fashion-design cluster and you're likely to raise a few eyebrows. After all, isn't this the place best known for Gore-Tex and grunge?

Turns out that Seattle ranks fourth—behind New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco—as a major area of fashion design and apparel talent. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Seattle has 240 fashion designers as defined by occupation codes, a high concentration. And those designers are the elite corps of an industry that supports more than 50,000 jobs in Washington state. In 2010, Enterprise Seattle, formerly the Economic Development Council of Seattle and King County, published an Apparel Industry Cluster Study that made the case for encouraging its growth and development. And that was before Seattle-based Amazon.com dramatically ramped up its fashion presence online by making apparel a major focus of its e-commerce scheme.

“We identified 500 to 700 fashion headquarters companies in the greater Seattle area,” says Karen Leonas, who worked on the study. She is a professor and chair of apparel merchandising, design and textiles at Washington State University.

To be sure, Seattle’s fashion presence is tiny compared to New York and Los Angeles, which boast large garment districts. Most designers still fly to Los Angeles to attend shows and buy their fabrics and other supplies. And there is a noticeable absence of widely attended fashion shows and trade shows here at which designers, suppliers and buyers can meet and mingle.

But some of that situation may be changing. A long-running Northwest fabric show that once catered largely to quilters will open its first exhibition later this month as the renamed Seattle International Textile Expo. Producer Steve Matsumoto hopes the trade show will allow more apparel makers to source supplies from local representatives. And while you won’t find many Seattle designs on Paris runways, there is a growing community of innovative designers popping up in the region.

“We are seeing designers right out of school who are designing impeccable, classy clothes,” says Eduardo Khawam. Khawam produces Metropolitan Fashion Week, a newly launched event that will include three fashion shows later this month showcasing 30 to 35 designers, more than two-thirds of them local.

Seattle is hardly new to the apparel industry. The city has designed and manufactured clothing since about 1898, when prospectors heading for the Alaska gold rush stopped here for provisions. For years, firms like Eddie Bauer and Filson provided classic, sturdy outdoor clothing that was widely distributed and admired. The region also has a long history as a supplier of animal pelts and is the home of the American Legend Auction (formerly the Seattle Fur Exchange), North America’s largest auction of animal pelts.

But the “fashion” industry here really got going in 1973, when Walter Schoenfeld, head of a small Seattle neckwear company, saw a pair of faded blue denim slacks in the window of a London shop. He tracked down the designer, found the manufacturer and created Brittania jeans as fashionable alternatives to the dark denim Levi’s that were so prevalent at that time.

Schoenfeld sensed a hot trend and ran with it. In less than 10 years, Brittania Sportswear was selling 30 million pairs a year and Brittania—Schoenfeld spelled it that way to distinguish his brand from the Royal Yacht Britannia—had a team of 40 to 50 designers and about 400 employees in Seattle. Schoenfeld sold most of his shares in the business in the early 1980s. He says the label is now owned, but unused, by North Carolina-based VF Corp., which also owns the Vans, Lee, Wrangler, Timberland, Nautica and JanSport labels.

But the Brittania legacy endures. The team Schoenfeld put together went on to start other companies that today are part of a business cluster generating about $16.4 billion in revenues annually, mostly centered in the greater Seattle area. Excluding retail, the sector encompassing apparel design, manufacturing, wholesale and corporate headquarters generates more than 17,000 jobs and contributes $6.7 billion in revenues.

Consider Seattle Pacific Industries, the privately held company that produces Unionbay, Saltaire and other labels sold throughout North America and Asia. Stephen Ritchey, president of Seattle Pacific, is a Brittania alumnus. Like most of the region’s apparel companies, its sportswear is made in Asia, shipped to Seattle and distributed from here. The company’s Seattle location is no accident. “We can bring products into Seattle faster than competitors in the Midwest or East Coast [can],” says Ritchey. “Our port is less crowded than Los Angeles and, logistically, Seattle is better for moving product in and out of Asia.”

Seattle businesses were among the first in the United States to use the local design/offshore labor model. The approach has continued to evolve to adapt to an industry where fashions can change overnight. “Our development time,” Ritchey says, “has been reduced by half [in about five years]. Everything is designed on a computer [and] electronically transmitted to the factory for execution.” This approach means fewer trips to far-flung factories and a weekly flow of goods instead of deliveries every couple of months. Although manufacturing overseas means fewer jobs here, the work that does remain in Washington state tends to be higher-skilled design and merchandising positions that pay relatively well.

Tommy Bahama is another Brittania offshoot with a major presence in Seattle’s fashion scene. Tony Margolis and Bob Emfield had left Brittania and were working in New York and Minneapolis, respectively, when they decided the world needed some upscale casual wear for men. Their third partner, Lucio Dalla Gasperina, said he would join the new company, but wanted to remain in Seattle. In 1992, they launched an island-inspired menswear collection that has evolved into a sophisticated-meets-casual lifestyle brand for men and women, with a chain of more than 90 Tommy Bahama retail stores and 13 restaurants.

Still based in Seattle, Tommy Bahama is now a division of Atlanta’s Oxford Industries, which also owns the Lilly Pulitzer and Ben Sherman labels. The three founding partners retired in 2008 and New Yorker Terry Pillow was named CEO. Pillow says he was told he could stay in New York and run the business from there. But once he visited Seattle, he chose the left coast. Today, Pillow presides over about 350 employees in the Seattle area from a six-story headquarters building near Lake Union, still marveling at the differences between East and West Coasts.


Tommy Bahama CEO Terry Pillow, left, with  Rob Goldberg, senior VP of marketing, at the company’s Lake Union headquarters. Photography by Hayley Young

“The talent we’re able to attract here is incredible,” Pillow says. “In New York, everybody’s a specialist. Here, the designers have to be generalists. They’re responsible for everything from fabric design to buttons. They have a broader scope.”

Rob Goldberg, senior vice president of marketing for Tommy Bahama, calls Seattle “an intersection of creative ability” whose relaxed, casual ethic influences designers everywhere. “Seattle is a community of first adopters—people who want to know what’s new,” Goldberg says. “They’re more open. They’re risk takers.”

At Tommy Bahama, that creativity is apparent in the palm trees in the lobby and in rooms hung with fabric samples, color swatches and racks of clothing begging to be touched. On one floor recently, an artist sat at a drafting table overlooking Lake Union, painting an intricate design that will become the pattern on a silk shirt for the 2013 holiday season. Textiles are designed in Seattle, then manufactured in Asia.

Tommy Bahama sales for the first nine months of fiscal 2011 were $324.5 million, compared to $289.6 million for the same period the previous year. Operating income for the nine-month period was $45.4 million in 2011 and $35.4 million in 2010. In the past 10 years, the Tommy Bahama menswear design team has grown from 10 to 50 persons. New store openings in New York City, Chicago, Tokyo and Hong Kong are slated this year.

If there’s a theme here, parlaying good international relations into profitable assets would seem to qualify. Rajnikant “Raj” Shah and Akhil Shah have used their worldwide connections to create Shah Safari, a global fashion company headquartered on Roy Street at the base of Queen Anne Hill in Seattle. The Shahs were born in Kenya and came to Seattle as teens, sponsored by their brother, Shashi, who worked at Boeing. The brothers arrived via London, a supremely fashionable place in the early 1970s. When they came here to live with a local family and attend high school in Edmonds, they were wearing London-style threads that got them noticed. “People told us we should get into the fashion business,” Akhil recalls. A couple of years later, while attending Shoreline Community College, they did, founding their company in 1975.

“Gauze from India was just becoming a hot fabric,” Akhil recalls. “We got samples from our brother in London and showed the designs to Jay Jacobs,” the late owner of a trendy Seattle fashion store. Jacobs not only bought their gauze shirts, Akhil says, but he also embraced their ideas.

“That was the beginning,” Akhil says. Soon, Nordstrom was ordering shirts from Shah Safari. In 1983, the brothers cofounded another company, International News, with the late Mike Alesko, to address a more upscale clientele. Today, the brothers’ fashion empire includes apparel for men, women and children and it operates a group of men’s apparel stores called Road as well as Zebra Club, a retail mini-chain that allows the Shahs and clothing manufacturers to test new products. Zebra Club is thriving, Akhil says, with retailers from all over the country coming to Seattle to see how clothing is merchandised and what’s selling.

Nordstrom, of course, is the 800-pound gorilla of this story. More than a national fashion specialty store based in Seattle, it is a virtual fashion incubator with a product development group working atop its downtown Seattle flagship store. More than 300 people work in the group, creating “house” labels such as Zella, Caslon, Classiques Entier and John W. Nordstrom—brands that make up about 10 to 12 percent of the store’s offerings. Like most local designs, they tend to be manufactured offshore, primarily in Asia.

Private label merchandise is crucial to Nordstrom’s ability to stay relevant to customers by offering fashions exclusive to Nordstrom. Buyers can work directly with designers to give customers what they want and need.

REI is another Seattle-based retailer that’s boosting its in-house design team. After working for years with a pattern maker and sample sewer, it began expanding its design team around 2007. Director Sean Smith says REI now has nine designers and four interns. Smith predicts REI will be looking for more in the coming years.

Some apparel designers and wholesalers have small local footprints but wide distribution beyond Washington state. Galen Jefferson, for example, has been creating her Two Dog Island line of upscale women’s casual wear here since 1995. Working with just one assistant and producing in China, she sells two collections annually through independent representatives and regional apparel trade shows. The former Nordstrom executive—she was co-president of the company in the early ’90s—says her retailing background and familiarity with offshore manufacturing have made it easy for her to operate in Seattle. But she says production in China is becoming more challenging as wages go up and the cost of manufacturing increases accordingly.

Farinaz Taghavi has an office/studio/showroom in Pioneer Square for the collections of separates she sells to Nordstrom and specialty stores on the East Coast. In business for eight years, she says she produces goods in Vancouver, B.C., because it allows her to be “hands on”—to know the factory owner, pattern maker and those who sew.

Jefferson says she’s noted evidence of “grass-roots creativity” in Seattle that’s similar to the edgy, “garage-based” designers of Los Angeles, and she has observed local customers responding to it. To encourage such entrepreneurial endeavor, she’d like to see the resurrection of the apparel mart that once flourished as part of the Seattle Trade & Technology Center on Elliott Avenue—a place where many designers and companies could have showrooms, a one-stop place for retail buyers to scope out local offerings.

Some envision such a sector developing in the SoDo or Georgetown neighborhoods of Seattle, where many designers are based. One intermediate step may be the decision by the Pacific Northwest Apparel Association, which has operated the longest-running West Coast women’s wear show, to move to the Pacific Market Center to get a bigger exhibition space for its five-times-a-year show. The hope is that an infrastructure can develop to support the many designers that are popping up in the region but may not have the access to pattern designers and fabrics.

One thing that sets this region’s fashion sector apart is the networking and mentoring that takes place, often among competing companies. There is also a broad range of educational institutions providing talent for the industry. Washington State University has a four-year program with options in merchandising and apparel design. Leonas says WSU’s graduates understand everything from basic design principles to factory production and marketing; many of them are working in the Pacific Northwest as well as in Los Angeles and New York. Seattle Central Community College has been graduating apparel design students for more than three decades. The Art Institute of Seattle and the International Academy of Design and Technology in Tukwila also offer classes in fashion design.

The Northwest’s apparel industry, according to the Enterprise Seattle study, is very much a “second tier” region when comparing its impact to that of New York and Los Angeles. New York has 10 times the national average of fashion designers; L.A. has five times the national average. Seattle has 1.2 times the national average. Still, for Seattle to trail only San Francisco among the second tier of cities with fashion industry clusters is remarkable, given that the sector is very much a “work in progress” according to Jody Crow, a 30-year veteran who has worked in product development for Nordstrom, Cutter & Buck and four blue jeans companies. She also owned her own active sportswear company, one of the first to offer clothing that incorporated a rayon-spandex blend.

What does Seattle need to improve?

Ironically, for a region that has such a high concentration of technology businesses, local fashion companies have been relatively slow to adopt technology. Crow now teaches clients how to use Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) software, which gathers and maintains the technical details that go into manufacturing a garment. “It means we can communicate all that info to overseas manufacturers without an email or a FedEx package to them,” Crow explains. “A design team here can send info to the Far East late in the afternoon and have manufacturing teams working on the projects when they arrive at work the next morning.” Crow predicts Seattle’s apparel industry will evolve and “continue to be a hotbed of new companies.”

Schoenfeld, the man who gets a lot of the credit for putting Seattle on the fashion map, sees no reason why the city shouldn’t be second to New York. That may be more of a stretch than all the spandex in the world can enable, but stranger things have happened. Who could have predicted the phenomenon that is Amazon.com?

In fact, Amazon has become a major player in fashion retailing with its entry of MyHabit.com into the web-based flash-sale realm pioneered by such “stores” as Ideeli, RueLaLa, Gilt Groupe and Haute-Look (which Nordstrom acquired last year). It’s not unusual these days to see Amazon advertising for fashion stylists, uniquely embodying Enterprise Seattle’s suggestion that the fashion sector leverage the Puget Sound Region’s technological assets.

Will all of this make the world forget grunge fashion? Probably not, since everything lives forever on the internet. But embracing technology could go a long way toward realizing Schoenfeld’s vision of Seattle as an even bigger player in fashion.

To that point, Chris Mefford, principal author of the Enterprise Seattle study, says, “Our region is so strong in information technology that any industry that can leverage it for growth and transformation is an industry we should be focused on. The fashion industry is at the forefront of that application right now, and we need to foster integration and partnerships that leverage that talent to support the fashion and design firms.”

 

Growing the Sector
According to Enterprise Seattle’s fashion sector study, local fashion and apparel leaders and stakeholders believe that retaining Washington’s best design talent and fashion entrepreneurs should be a lead strategy to growing the industry locally. Industry experts identified these addition strategies as useful.
 
Incubators. Creative, talented individuals rarely emerge as entrepreneurs backed with a depth of startup capital. Design incubators provide tools and resources at low cost to entrepreneurs. Fashion and apparel incubators foster synergy and collaboration.
 
Professional Networking. Established and emerging niches in the industry rely on creative exchange and collaboration. Industry leaders identified the need for networking resources, access to financing and expert training for international customs and business relations.
 
Training. Educational institutions can better prepare students to succeed by integrating business and fashion education.

The Amazing Rise of Amazon Studios

The Amazing Rise of Amazon Studios

A few years ago, no one was streaming new content from the retail giant. Roy Price has changed that dynamic.
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 
 
When the 89th Academy Awards celebration begins on February 26, Roy Price is sure to be in the audience. If early predictions are accurate, he will be anticipating an award or two for Manchester by the Sea, a film that’s been the smash hit at all four major North American film festivals this season.
 
A huge comeback for writer/director Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea stars Casey Affleck as a lost soul forced to contemplate adopting his reluctant teenage nephew. With Manchester receiving six Academy Award nominations, Roy Price could be a happy man on Oscar night. And Amazon.com shareholders, who have seen Amazon’s stock price rise 340 percent in the past six years, would likely be giving a standing ovation. 
 
Price, 49, who until recently lived in Seattle’s Laurelhurst neighborhood, is chief of Amazon Studios — the arm of the Jeff Bezos empire committed to revolutionizing entertainment. Based partly in Seattle but mostly in a new 85,000-square-foot Santa Monica production facility, Price’s team of renowned Hollywood execs and industry veterans has been responsible for more than 100 prestige movies and blockbuster shows. They now make and acquire original films and TV series, which are streamed via the company’s on-demand video service. 
 
Amazon is likely second only to Netflix in total streaming customers. And Manchester by the Sea is its first big Oscar contender. Even if Oscar snubs Amazon, its Hollywood profile is at an all-time high. Back in 1998, when Amazon began selling DVDs, Hollywood studios actually refused to make DVDs of their films available for sale online. Now, Hollywood returns Amazon’s calls, and Price can hire talent like directors Woody Allen, Steven Soderbergh and Spike Lee, and Manchester producer Matt Damon.
 
It’s a coup for Price, who started planning this Hollywood invasion in 2000, when he quit Disney after six years as animated-series VP to become a digital media consultant. He then joined Amazon in 2004, launching its video-on-demand service in 2008. When archrival Netflix started making its own shows, like the popular and critically acclaimed House of Cards, Price got the green light to launch Amazon Studios in 2010.
 
Netflix spends about $6 billion a year on 1,000-plus hours of original programming. Amazon’s production is ramping up sharply — in the second half of this year it said it was spending twice as much as  in the same period last year — but its attitude toward releasing actual numbers on its business is a lot like the secretary who defies Javier Bardem’s nosy killer character in No Country for Old Men: “Did you not hear me? We can’t give out no information!”
 
Regardless, Price is happily gobsmacked at how fast Amazon Studios has taken off. “Our first show, Garry Trudeau’s Alpha House, came out three years ago,” says Price, who has a mind sharp as a bear trap and a jaunty, quirky personal manner. 
 
Alpha House earned some applause, though no Emmys — something that changed in Amazon Studios’ second year, when it nabbed five Emmy Awards to Netflix’s four. Amazon’s first hits — Transparent, a noble, exquisitely trendy comedy-drama about a transsexual dad, and Mozart in the Jungle, about a madcap orchestra conductor (Gael García Bernal) and a young oboist (Lola Kirke) — won four Golden Globes in the past two years, plus an abundance of the industry’s most prestigious other prizes. 
 
Price plays everything close to the vest, but these days he doesn’t conceal his glee. In his first time at bat in the Oscar race, he has hit what could be a home run with Manchester by the Sea.
 
“We only came out with one movie last year,” Price remarks. “We’ll have 15 this year.”
 
And while he is all smiles about Amazon’s entry into the movie world, his ambitions for TV are just as energetic. He spent a reported $70 million for an eight-episode series from Mad Men creator Matt Weiner and $160 million for 16 episodes of a David O. Russell drama starring Robert De Niro and Julianne Moore.
 
Amazon hasn’t said yet when the programs will air. 
 
Amazon’s successes are catching the attention of media watchers.
 
“As soon as Amazon entered the awards race, that scrappy media player zoomed to the front of the pack,” says Tom O’Neil, editor of the Gold Derby awards-prediction website. “Transparent won Best Comedy Actor for Jeffrey Tambor at the Emmy Awards in 2015, the first time a streaming service won a top Emmy category. Amazon not only proved it was a serious player, but it’s playing for the long haul ahead.”
 
Amazon is betting big money — O’Neil estimates about $2 million — on the Emmy and Oscar races. In December, as part of the studio’s marketing campaign, Damon and Bezos hosted a party under a big tent at Bezos’s Beverly Hills mansion, stocked for the occasion with the best scotch, plenty of shrimp and lots of stars.
 
Bezos spoke to Anne Thompson of the independent-film website IndieWire, who reports, “[Bezos] wants to build a brand that means taste and class, and the person he leans on for advice is pal Harvey Weinstein.” Weinstein is the legendary Hollywood mogul whose films have earned more than 300 Oscar nominations. The Hollywood Reporter notes that not since Weinstein’s 1999 battle for Shakespeare in Love against Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan has there been a dramatic, bragging-rights Oscar contest like Amazon’s Manchester vs. Netflix’s 13th, a hot Oscar contender in the documentary category, which would be Netflix’s fourth Oscar nomination.
 
“Amazon is following the same strategy HBO pursued at the Emmys back when it was the New Media Kid in Town,” O’Neil explains. “In the 1980s, HBO craved the approval of its peers and so campaigned aggressively to win Emmys. … Now, HBO is The Establishment and it’s facing hungry new foes like Amazon.”
 
To O’Neil’s point, HBO, which dominated the Oscars and Emmys for two decades, didn’t make the Oscar documentary semifinalist list of 15 contenders this year. Netflix, with 13th, and Amazon, which acquired the U.S. rights to Gleason, did. Clearly, back in 2000, Price guessed right about the future of internet entertainment.
 
In 2008, Amazon’s digital video sales generated revenues comparable to that of a neighborhood Blockbuster store. How on Earth did Roy Price turn this modest digital store into a rocket ship to Emmy and Oscar acclaim?
 
It helps that he is Hollywood royalty. Price’s mom, Katherine Crawford, was an actress who appeared on the 1970s Seattle-set show Here Come the Brides. His dad, Frank Price, ran Columbia and Universal studios, and his namesake maternal grandpa, Roy Huggins, created and produced breakthrough TV shows like The Fugitive, The Rockford Files and Maverick
 
Perpetually clad in jeans and a black leather jacket, Price can swim with Hollywood sharks, speak their upbeat lingo and still talk digital business jargon with the nerdiest of nerds. His parents tried to steer him away from too much show biz, but after graduating from exclusive East Coast schools (Phillips Academy Andover and Harvard University), he went to USC’s Gould School of Law, worked as an assistant for an agent who grew up to run Hollywood’s top talent agency, CAA, and went into the family business.
 
He is irreverent, puckish and infinitely bolder than most Hollywood execs, who live in fear of making a mistake and getting fired. Price takes entertainment seriously — he actually rewrote the story of Bosch, Amazon’s adaptation of the Michael Connelly crime novels, but he isn’t self-important. The Disney film The Barefoot Executive, about a chimpanzee that’s adept at picking TV hits, is one of his favorites.
 
“That is an awesome, awesome movie,” says Price, who loves monkeying with Hollywood tradition. “You’re not going to find the most interesting new show on TV by being easily put off by risk. You have to be sort of bold. In today’s competitive environment, the conservative path is the riskiest path.” 
 
Price doesn’t seem to need a chimp to pick hits. Like his forebears, he is a maverick with an analytical streak. His grandpa’s show, The Fugitive, which became a $387 million movie, broke all the rules of its day. “Every network passed on The Fugitive at least once,” he says. “You couldn’t have a guy wanted for murder as your protagonist! The whole concept was offensive! But it was a huge hit, and the offbeat protagonist has become very popular.” 
 
Offbeat protagonists are the foundation of Price’s empire: trans dads, madcap maestros, Nazis running half of America in Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, and a Vietnam-era writer who sells out his talent in Woody Allen’s Crisis in Six Scenes. As with The Fugitive, he notes, “Every studio passed on Transparent.”  
 
Price also doesn’t fret about industry headlines, which note that shows by Netflix, FX, HBO and Hulu often get more viewers than Amazon. Though he’s in competition with traditional studios for viewers in theaters, on TV and on devices, he’s in a different position because Amazon’s business model is unique. He needs to grow viewership, but he doesn’t make money from ads whose prices are based on viewership ratings, which (natch!) Amazon won’t disclose.
 
Instead, he must grow membership in Amazon Prime, a service that costs Amazon customers $99 a year (or $10.99 a month), for which they get free two-day shipping on products purchased through Amazon and streaming of all the Amazon shows they can watch. Analysts say Price drove much of Amazon’s 53 percent growth in Prime membership in 2015 to an estimated 54 million (it’s now over 60 million). Prime members effectively subsidize all the shows Price is busy creating, whether or not they watch anything.
 
“Their strong belief is the more time you spend in the Amazon ecosystem, the more money you spend with Amazon,” media analyst Richard Greenfield told The Los Angeles Times last year. “The key for Amazon is how do they get you to spend more time in that ecosystem — and it’s with having a deep catalog of movies, TV and music.”
 
Much more important than ratings, then, is converting casual customers into Amazon Prime members — who buy three times as much from Amazon as non-Prime customers — and breaking through the noise of the vast landscape of entertainment options.
 
“You’ve got to make it interesting and worthwhile and buzzworthy to stand out in a crowded market,” says Price. “What you’re really looking for is that really ambitious, completely addictive, binge-worthy show that’s in the top 20 or 10 — or one — that people are talking about. In 1977, you could get a lot out of a show that simply retained the audience of a previous show. But today, it’s on demand — they have to demand it. So you’ve got to earn that.”
 
Audience habits are changing at warp speed, something Price and his boss, Bezos, who devotes serious time to Amazon Studios, are obviously factoring into their plans. Most Hollywood programmers live or die by ratings and first-weekend grosses. Bezos and Price play a longer game. Their goal is to retain audiences for years, not weekends, and they have the benefit of the world’s largest database of consumer behavior. 
 
Instead of relying on Nielsen polls of viewers, who can lie about what they watch and are increasingly hard to reach as people ditch their land lines, Amazon and its tech rivals can tell exactly what its customers are watching, and algorithms tell an informative story about particular products they might like. Netflix mined data showing its customers loved the original British House of Cards and Kevin Spacey before shelling out $100 million for the United States version, but Amazon has even more customers and data (just not more streaming customers—yet). These tech game changers are making Hollywood nimbler, less irrationally traditional, more customer-driven. Cable companies give you mostly channels you don’t want; Amazon, ever more cleverly, gives you what you do want. 
 
The key question is whether the ability of Amazon and Netflix to observe individual customer behavior gives them an advantage over broadcasters’ Nielsen survey data, says Michael D. Smith, a Carnegie-Mellon University information tech and marketing expert, “and so far, the answer seems to be ‘yes.’ As Amazon and Netflix emerge as competitors, it will be interesting to see whether Amazon’s ability to observe both retail purchase data and video views gives it an advantage over Netflix’s video-only data — and the jury is still out on that one.”
 
There’s also no telling what else Bezos will take over. But it’s worth remembering that the bestselling bio about him is called The Everything Store and his original name for Amazon was “Relentless.com.”
 
An Oscar could provide an altogether different type of boost in visibility. Guests at December’s Manchester by the Sea Oscar campaign bash say Price and Bezos’s hunger for the gold doll was absolutely palpable. Yet many — maybe most — people have no idea Amazon is in the movie and TV business. So if a $2 million Oscar campaign can catch the eye of 300 Academy voters, it could produce recognition for a movie that might then be watched by one billion people.
 
Even for the famously frugal Bezos, whose Amazon executives fly coach, that kind of return is definitely worth a $2 million investment.