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Podcast – What to pitch to Amazon Prime Video Australia

Head of Content Tyler Bern talks through the strategy for Amazon Prime Video Australia, what they want from pitches, and new hires.

Tyler Bern headshot spliced with still from The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart.

Tyler Bern, The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart

Find this episode of the Screen Australia Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Pocket Casts

In May 2021, Amazon Prime Video Australia held an event in Sydney to unveil seven new locally-produced shows in the pipeline, including feature documentary Burning and TV series The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart.

Head of Content Tyler Bern says that’s only the beginning.

“What Australians want to watch is different to what Americans want to watch, and the Brits and the Germans. So we can’t just make big global shows – we really need to focus on what our Australian customers want to watch,” he says.

“We do that in a number of different ways. We make Australian Originals. We license a lot of content for Australia only, and [are] hopefully going to continue to invest in live sports going forward.”

Bern says the decision to start investing in Australia as a region happened following the launch of Amazon Prime Video in Australia in 2016 and the subscription package Prime in 2018. The push into commissioning local original content is more recent though. The 2020 docuseries The Test: A New Era for Australia's Team was the first Amazon Australia Original, while Back to the Rafters, which launched globally on 17 September 2021, marked Amazon Australia’s first scripted Original Series. The company is also expanding its workforce in Australia. As Bern reveals on the podcast, Sarah Christie, who was previously Development Producer at Goalpost Pictures, has been hired to lead the local scripted slate going forward.

Throughout the podcast, Bern offers advice for Australians hoping to pitch ideas to Amazon, why they are actively looking for feature film and YA projects, how they approach commissions and acquisitions like Hulu series Nine Perfect Strangers, and their approach to release strategies. Bern also details the Australian slate and how The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart came to Amazon Prime Video.

“We’re going to continue to commission,” he says. “Australian Originals are important to us, we know they’re important to our Australian customers and we do think these shows are going to travel.”

Watch Burning on Amazon Prime Video now and stay tuned for the launch of The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart.

Subscribe to Screen Australia Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Pocket Casts


[00:00:05] Caris Bizzaca Welcome to the Screen Australia podcast, I'm Caris Bizzaca, a journalist with Screen Australia's online publications, Screen News. Before we begin, I would like to acknowledge the countries we meet on. Wherever you might be listening in from, we are all joining from unceded lands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. I'm joining from the lands of the Gadigal people who are of the larger Eora Nation. I'm a visitor on this land and have great privilege to work on this country. Always was, always will be. On this episode of the podcast - our Last of 2021 - we are joined by Tyler Bern, the Head of Content for Amazon Prime Video Australia. Tyler talks through Amazon Prime Video's strategy in Australia and New Zealand and what they are looking for in pitches. Tyler also announces a new face at the company with news that Sarah Christie, who was previously development producer at Goalpost Pictures, has started at Amazon Prime Video to lead the scripted slate. And speaking of that slate, Tyler gives us an idea of the local projects in the pipeline and in particular to the upcoming TV series The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart, which stars Sigourney Weaver, Asher Keddie and Leah Purcell. The seven episode series is executive produced by Jodi Matterson, Bruna Papandrea and Steve Hutenski. It's directed by Glendyn Ivin and written by showrunner Sarah Lambert, who adapted it from the Australian novel by Holly Ringland. Tyler talks about how the project came to Amazon Prime and why it was one of the strongest pitches he's heard. Before we get to the chat, remember you can subscribe to the podcast through places like Spotify and iTunes, where you can leave a rating and review. Any feedback? Email to [email protected] and also remember for the latest funding announcements, opportunities, videos and more subscribe to Screen Australia's fortnightly industry enews. Without further ado, here's Tyler Bern, Head of Content for Amazon Prime Video Australia.

[00:02:05] Caris Bizzaca Just to start off with, could you tell me a little bit about your background in the industry and your role at Amazon?

[00:02:13] Tyler Bern Yes, so I've been at Amazon for five years now. I've worked in a variety of different roles. I came in working on licencing. I worked on our big global launch when we launched Prime Video globally in December 2016 and went from there - I worked for a US team for a little bit, had a global role after that where I travelled around the world working with our different content teams on their content strategies. And then in 2019, I shifted my current role. So I'm head of content for Prime Video Australia and I've now taken on in addition to Australia, I'm also Head of Content for New Zealand and for Canada.

[00:02:50] Caris Bizzaca Yeah, brilliant. And so what does that role actually entail?

[00:02:54] Tyler Bern Yeah, it's a fun role, so, we are - and you're going to hear me say customers a lot, like at Amazon were very customer centric. And what we realised when we launched Prime Video globally is we're making these massive global shows. We just launched Wheel of Time, we have The Boys, we have Jack Ryan, we have Marvellous Mrs. Maisel that do well all around the globe. But really, when you think about a place like Australia, what Australians want to watch is different than what Americans want to watch and then the Brits and the Germans. So we just can't make big global shows. We need to really focus on what our Australian customers want to watch. So my job is to really hone in on what our customers want to watch and localise the service for Australian customers. So we do that in a number of different ways. We make Australian Originals. We lisence a lot of content for Australia only. And we're also interested in live sports. We had a live streaming event last year. We have another one this year and hopefully going to continue investing in live sports going forward.

[00:04:03] Caris Bizzaca Yeah, OK. And so just the term 'customers', just to kind of clarify, do you feel like that's interchangeable with the word 'audiences'? Is it an Amazon approach because Amazon doesn't just deal with a screen audience?

[00:04:19] Tyler Bern It is, yes. It's interchangeable. At least when we're talking about Prime Video, when we talk about customers, it's our audience.

[00:04:27] Caris Bizzaca And so the decision to expand to Australia. Can you talk through that a little bit?

[00:04:36] Tyler Bern Expand from a content perspective? And start investing there?

[00:04:38] Caris Bizzaca Yeah, exactly.

[00:04:39] Tyler Bern Yeah, of course. Prime Video is a benefit. It's part of a broader subscription package called Prime and Prime launched in Australia in June of 2018. So with the launch of Prime Video in December 2016 and then with the launch of Prime in the middle of 2018, the decision was made to start investing on a local basis in Australia. So you know what you see in Australia on Prime Video is very different than what you see in the UK, and it's different than what you see in the US because we have been investing locally now for three plus years.

[00:05:15] Caris Bizzaca Yeah. Okay, great. And is that was part of like a longer term plan in terms of like launching first Prime and then actually like commissioning and making projects here?

[00:05:26] Tyler Bern It's how it happened in Australia. I can't speak to what the broader plan is because it's kind of all different. Prime is not available in New Zealand, but we have Prime Video in New Zealand and we are investing locally in New Zealand. So, you know, a different timeline, definitely. And it's different all over the world.

[00:05:44] Caris Bizzaca Yeah, OK. And can you talk a little bit about what that team in Australia looks like now? Maybe how many people there are or what some of the other roles are?

[00:05:55] Tyler Bern Yeah, we're growing really fast and we need a lot of people to help us support these 14 Australian Originals that we've announced so far. So right now, we have 12 people across marketing and PR and are actively hiring more. We also have three post executives currently hired in Sydney, and they support scripted and unscripted. And we've opened recs right now. So we're looking for a movies post executive, a scripted production executive and an unscripted production executive. So if you're interested, if you're listening to this, if you think that's in your wheelhouse please apply. We're actively sourcing and interviewing and trying to hire those roles ASAP. What's also very exciting is that we've hired our first local creative executive, Sarah Christie from Goalpost Pictures joined Amazon about a month ago, and she'll be leading our scripted slate. So what that means is that Sarah will oversee all creative aspects of scripted development, production, post-production, while also serving as the primary liaison between our scripted department and all the other departments at Amazon Studios. So we're very excited to have Sarah. She's been here a month and she's been killing it so far, so we're excited to see what she can do.

[00:07:06] Caris Bizzaca And so what is the difference between Amazon Prime Video and then Amazon Studios, which you've said you work quite closely with?

[00:07:17] Tyler Bern Yeah. The simplest way to think about it and to just differentiate between the two is Amazon Studios creates our content in Amazon Prime Video distributes the content. So it's like a studio and a network model.

[00:07:29] Caris Bizzaca And so that's how you and Erika North who's Head of Originals in the Asia-Pacific for Amazon Studios, why you would work so closely with Erika because it's Amazon Studios is creating that content and you're devising the strategy for how to get it to audiences. Is that correct?

[00:07:48] Tyler Bern Yes, that's correct. Both both Erika North and Sarah Christie.

[00:07:51] Caris Bizzaca Okay. So there was a big launch for Amazon in Australia earlier in 2021 in May, and it talked about a lot of the Australian content that the company has commissioned or is in the pipeline. Can you talk through some of those titles?

[00:08:10] Tyler Bern Yeah, definitely. It was definitely a big event. We announced really, I think, what was the most exciting part of our announcement. We are making now a big move into scripted. We announced four scripted shows, all very exciting. One has launched, three are in various stages of production. And really, what we're trying to do with these shows and particularly the scripted shows, is we're really trying to create conversations and we're trying to get our customers and our audience excited about shows. We want them, if they're Prime members, we want them to watch and engage. And if they're not Prime members, we want them to sign up for Prime Video and to come watch these really great shows that we're making with these really great creators and production companies. So we're making The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart. It's with Made Up Stories and Endeavour Content with Bruna (Papandrea), Jodi Matterson, like really great producers. We've got great directors and writers. And it's really an iconic story. It's based on an Australian book (by Holly Ringland). And we were immediately attracted to it. It really pulls on your heartstrings. It's emotional. It's visceral. We think it's going to be unlike anything that's ever been made in Australia. The second big project that we announced is Deadloch. So we have Kate McCartney, Kate McLennan are the writers, and it's with Guesswork and Kevin Whyte. It's so tonally unique. It's a murder mystery set in Tasmania. It really kind of pulls different genre strings. It's really a unique blend and-

[00:09:50] Caris Bizzaca -and it's the Kates.

[00:09:52] Tyler Bern Well yes.

[00:09:52] Caris Bizzaca They're hilarious.

[00:09:54] Tyler Bern They're the best. Right? They just bring like such a unique, creative lens to Deadloch and to Get Crackin'. And you know, who doesn't love a whodunit, but then the Kate's twist in terms of putting a comedic lens on it. And the third show we announced is Class of '07, so it's with Matchbox and Kacie Anning-

[00:10:16] Caris Bizzaca Who did Upload, another Amazon title. Well, she was one of the directors on Upload.

[00:10:20] Tyler Bern Yes, yeah. Again, it's a project that we haven't seen come out of Australia. It's a group of women are at their ten year high school reunion in the world ends, so they can't leave-

[00:10:32] Caris Bizzaca I think I read Lord of the Flies in cocktail dresses?

[00:10:36] Tyler Bern That's right. So as you could imagine, everybody kind of devolves to their high school self. There's a little Mean Girls mixed with kind of dystopia - again like a really cool genre blend, that's really funny, too. We really like comedy, particularly Deadloch and Class 007. We love Australian comedy. We think it's a nice place for us to play and to commission-

[00:11:05] Caris Bizzaca Because The Moth Effect was also-

[00:11:08] Tyler Bern Yes, and that is the fourth (show), The Moth Effect. And it's out right now, so everybody go watch it if you haven't already. It's crazy. Like, it's a totally crazy show and a satirical sketch comedy show, and it really takes a modern lens on what's happening in society, and six episodes are available on Prime Video globally right now. So really, out of our four scripted shows, one big, visceral drama with Lost Flowers of Alice Hart and then three comedies in Deadloch, Class of 07 and The Moth Effect.

[00:11:36] Caris Bizzaca And obviously, there's documentary offerings there as well. People can check out something like Burning, which is available to watch. Do you want to talk through that documentary slate at all?

[00:11:49] Tyler Bern Yeah, of course. (With) Burning we partnered with Eva Orner, who's a very talented Academy Award-winning Australian producer and director to create a documentary about the Australian fires. And then a couple of sport documentaries like we do sport quite a bit. We've launched The Test, which is our Australian national cricket team, a sports docuseries. That was our first Original that we launched. We launched Making Their Mark, which is a big AFL docuseries. And then we announced three more documentaries: Head Above Water, where we followed four swimmers in their lead up to the swimming championships, which we had on Prime Video, and then we have two additional AFL documentaries coming out next year with Kick like Tayla, where we're following Tayla Harris and Warriors on the Field, which is an Indigenous AFL documentary. We're following a couple of players in various stages of their career.

[00:12:43] Caris Bizzaca Yeah, fantastic. And so obviously like a huge amount of projects announced at that launch. But what is the kind of content strategy going forward for Prime Video Australia?

[00:12:57] Tyler Bern Yeah, we're going to continue to commission. Australian Originals are important to us and we know that they're important to our Australian customers and we do think these shows are going to travel. Something like Lost Flowers is going to be a big global hit. With the creative team that we've lined up - Glendyn (Ivin) and Sarah (Lambert), Bruna (Papandrea) and Jodi (Matterson). It's just a really big and powerful show, and going forward we're going to continue to look for more Lost Flowers, more Moth Effects. Like I said, we really like comedy, but we are also now looking kind of outside of comedy. And we like thrillers, we're looking for YA and we're getting into features. I think features are the most kind of important new part of our content strategy. I mean, Burning is a documentary, but we are now actively looking to develop and commission scripted features.

[00:13:55] Caris Bizzaca And do you feel like you know you're talking commissions there, do you feel like commissions are given more weight than an acquisition?

[00:14:05] Tyler Bern No, it doesn't really matter how we get there. It's more about the show. So whether it's an acquisition or commission for us, it's all about what the project is and what we think its impact is going to be. If we buy it or if it's a co-pro, you know, like the structure really doesn't matter, we're kind of like agnostic in terms of how the show comes in. It's really about how we think our customers are going to feel.

[00:14:31] Caris Bizzaca Mmm. And is there also a case of like, do you find you're looking at content produced by some international streamers say like a Hulu who haven't expanded to Australia, where Amazon can acquire a series like Nine Perfect Strangers, which means that Australians or New Zealanders do get to watch it in this territory?

[00:14:50] Tyler Bern Yeah, we buy a lot of content. Nine Perfect Strangers is a great example of a show that we were able to acquire and bring and import into Australia and give it to our Australian customers. We also have something like Star Trek Picard: season two is coming out next year. That's another example of a show that we bought and will have exclusively available on Prime Video.

[00:15:14] Caris Bizzaca And if someone has an idea that they think would be great to pitch to Amazon, how would they actually go about that? You know, are Amazon accepting pitches at the moment?

[00:15:27] Tyler Bern We are. We're always accepting pitches. The easiest way is if you're attached to production company, you know, we're talking to everybody all the time. And have them reach out to us and we'll set up the meeting. If you're not, reach out to me or reach out to someone on our team, reach out to Erika, reach out to whomever and we'll get a meeting set up. And we'll talk about your project. We're always open to listening to new ideas and meeting new people.

[00:15:51] Caris Bizzaca Yeah, great. And there's also Amazon Prime Video is involved in a particular pitch initiative. Is that right? Pitch on demand?

[00:16:00] Tyler Bern Yes. So we're participating in Pitch on Demand with the Screen Producers Association, and I gave a brief really talking about what type of projects we're looking for and really being specific in terms of like what our immediate needs are. So it was it was features with a particular focus on thriller and YA and then just more generally across TV and features, obviously YA like we are actively looking for more YA projects. And then in unscripted, I don't know if you've seen it, but we have a show called Lux Listing Sydney, which is a massive hit for us. It's glossy and it's fun. There's all these great houses. It's very cinematically pleasing. And so we consider those like guilty pleasure type shows. And we're looking for more guilty pleasure shows because it gets back to what I was talking about earlier where like those are just shows you tell your friends about - you post about, you tweet about and everybody gets really excited about because they're shows that you want to watch and really grab your attention and create those conversations.

[00:17:14] Caris Bizzaca Mmm. And you mentioned that Amazon is looking particularly for features and for YA stories, why in particular features and YA?

[00:17:30] Tyler Bern  Films is a really exciting category for us, so we've seen from the data, our streaming data on our service. Films do really well on SVOD, like it's very clear and it makes sense, right? We all love films. You know, we love watching films in the theatres. We love watching films on broadcast TV and, based on our data, we all love watching films on SVOD. And then anecdotally too, you hear about how well films do on a number of our competitors. So it's really, our move now into films is just a natural extension of our content strategy and why Australian films? Australian films are awesome. You've seen like the recent successes of The Dry, Babyteeth, all the awards Nitram won at the AACTAs, great movies like High Ground. So it's a no-brainer. It really is. We've seen great data, like our customers have loved Burning, our first original documentary feature. They've loved it in Australia and they've loved it globally. So films are what we're really passionate about and it's an exciting next chapter and extension for our content strategy here.

[00:18:41] Caris Bizzaca Mmmm. And then YA in terms of young adult was another area. Can you talk through that?

[00:18:50] Tyler Bern You can't have YA. It's funny to think about but good YA is so like zeitgeisty. And people just want to consume it and talk about it. We have this show called The Wilds, which is a global original for us, but we shot season one in New Zealand and we shot season two in Queensland. And it's hugely popular, and it's really interesting to see the streaming data is great. And then just the continued conversation about The Wilds on all of our social handles like people are just speculating about what's going to happen in season two, they're talking about their favourite characters. We've created like this really cool online community around The Wilds that's really grown organically, just based on the love of the show. So from our perspective, we just want more and we want to make great Australian YA. Similar to film it's another area where the data shows that it's something that we should be investing more in and then it just makes a lot of sense because we know that there are the stories and the creators here that can pull off like some really cool projects.

[00:20:08] Caris Bizzaca So you're talking about thie kind of things Amazon is looking for then. Is there anything that Amazon Prime isn't looking for?

[00:20:18] Tyler Bern Not really. I wouldn't rule anything out. The advice I would give to anybody who's thinking about pitching a project to us is we're not looking for.. this is a little contradictory to what I said about Luxe Listings, but we want more Luxe Listings and that we want guilty pleasure programming-

[00:20:38] Caris Bizzaca But you don't want the exact same show.

[00:20:39] Tyler Bern Yeah, we don't want another reality show. So, we're likely not looking for another show about the Australian cricket team because we've made one like that.

[00:20:49] Caris Bizzaca So if it already exists, like you don't want to replicate what you already have, you want something that might be adjacent?

[00:20:58] Tyler Bern Yeah, adjacent or complementary. But you know, we do get some pitches that's 'Oh, you guys had a satirical sketch comedy show. Here's one that's The Moth Effect, number two'. And that's not what we're looking for, because if we want The Moth Effect number two, we'll make another season. So similar to my example about the Australian national cricket team, we'll make another season of The Test. So I think that's that's really the only things that we would kind of exclude. But we're always like, we love to be surprised with a great idea in a content category that we're not thinking of because, trust me we're not thinking about everything - there's all these great projects out there. And I think that's why we're so open to pitches and we're so open to hearing ideas because there is just a great idea or many ideas sitting out there that are just going to blow us away that we've never even considered before, which is exciting about this job.

[00:21:55] Caris Bizzaca And if someone is approaching Amazon with a pitch, Amazon Prime with the pitch, does the idea need to be fully developed and ready to go into production? Can it be like an early idea? What stage does it need to be at?

[00:22:10] Tyler Bern We take projects across, really at any stage in development. We'll take up an idea that's fully produced and ready to be greenlit. We've done that before. And then, you know, we have some shows that really started early in their process and we develop those projects together. So we're open to any stage in the process. And we've done so with many of our different shows.

[00:22:38] Caris Bizzaca And something that I find quite interesting looking across the streamers or even, ABC iview or SBS On Demand is the release strategies. And I was wondering, do you feel like Amazon leans more towards that week-to-week release strategy in general?

[00:22:57] Tyler Bern Yes and no. I think we were constantly testing and learning, so something like Back to the Rafters was a binge release. And then you see, something like Wheel of Time is being released on a weekly basis. I think it's really show dependent, and I don't think there's a perfect answer. We're all, and you see with other streamers, too, everybody's experimenting with their release strategies and what days you drop different episodes and how many episodes you put upfront and then what does the tail look like. It's fascinating because I don't think we're going to see uniformity in release strategies because it now has turned into a more of a strategic conversation around how you want people to engage with your show. Whether you start on a Tuesday or you start on Thursday, I don't think anyone really knows. And that's why you're seeing all these different variations in terms of release strategies.

[00:23:55] Caris Bizzaca Are people are kind of experimenting with it more at the moment? It hasn't kind of settled into an excepted...

[00:24:01] Tyler Bern Yeah, yeah, that's definitely what it seems like.

[00:24:05] Caris Bizzaca Yeah, is that kind of approach... is the idea of experimenting and things like that. Is it more possible being something that's a streamer? That you are kind of adapting and trying things out?

[00:24:21] Tyler Bern We definitely have a lot more flexibility in terms of how we schedule and at Amazon we love really like testing and learning and trying to figure out what the best approach is going to be for something like scheduling and release strategy. So we are much more flexible compared to a traditional broadcaster in that regard.

[00:24:45] Caris Bizzaca And so I was wondering if we could actually talk through one of the titles that is on the slate to just kind of look at the journey a little bit from, when it came to Amazon Prime to shooting. And particularly, The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart would be fantastic to focus on if that's OK.

[00:25:06] Tyler Bern Yeah, of course.

[00:25:07] Caris Bizzaca Great. So when did that project first come to Amazon Prime?

[00:25:12] Tyler Bern It came to us in the middle of last year. We were pitched - Bruna and Sarah us pitched a great pilot and bible, and it really just caught our attention. It's a beautiful story and it was one of the best pitches we've ever received. When Erika and I took the pitch, we had an immediate reaction to it. And, we got off the pitch and we're like this show is amazing. We have to figure out how to make it. So that was one of those kind of like light bulb moments where you get out of a pitch and you want to move heaven and earth to try and make sure that you're putting yourself in a position to to secure the project. And hopefully greenlight it a little bit further down the road.

[00:25:54] Caris Bizzaca Yeah, OK. So producer Bruna Papandrea who's with made up stories. And Sarah Lambert, who people might know from things like Lambs of God the TV series, but she's also the showrunner on this series. So they pitched to you. What's the the next step? Do you say, yes, we're interested, can we get some writers rooms involved? Like how long's the development process? What happens next?

[00:26:23] Tyler Bern Yeah, we had, on that particular project, it came to us very well developed and packaged. So, it was more a discussion around internally whether or not we wanted to move forward. So, it was a pretty easy decision from our standpoint that it was something that we wanted to move forward with. So then kind of the normal processes and things like that happen. And we were lucky enough to be able to move forward to eventually greenlight it.

[00:26:54] Caris Bizzaca Okay, great. And so in terms of that actually then going into production, when did that happen? I'm assuming COVID may have impacted it at some point.

[00:27:06] Tyler Bern It did. COVID slowed things down for lost flowers and for all of our projects. But it's it's in production right now for on month two, which is very exciting.

[00:27:16] Caris Bizzaca Great. Month two out of how many months?

[00:27:20] Tyler Bern Around three.

[00:27:20] Caris Bizzaca Oh, great. Okay. Yeah. So that's something that people audiences can expect to see potentially...?

[00:27:28] Tyler Bern Soon. Soon. We don't have a date yet. 

[00:27:32] Caris Bizzaca Yeah. Fantastic. And so just, as kind of one of the final questions, just wondering if you have any advice for creatives working in Australia?

[00:27:45] Tyler Bern I think there's two really important things we want to hear when we're pitched a project. The first one is we really want to understand why you, the creator, wants to make the project and really understand like what your passion for this project is and why has it drawn you in and why you want to be the champion of this project. That's number one. And then number two is we just want you to be really clear on who the audience is and who wants to watch this show. And if you really come in and nail those two aspects, you've got a captive audience, right? And then we're really talking about your project and really trying to understand creatively what it means to both you and to the audience. I think that's definitely the most important thing we want to hear. So passion and audience really helps when you're talking to us or talking to another commissioner.

[00:28:44] Caris Bizzaca Fantastic. Great. Well, we'll leave it there, but thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today and talking to us all about Amazon Prime.

[00:28:52] Tyler Bern Yeah, well, thank you.

[00:28:56] Caris Bizzaca That was Tyler Bern, Head of Content for Amazon Prime Video Australia. Of course, all these projects Tyler listed are or will be available on Amazon Prime Video. This was our last episode of 2021 and as we take a break for a month or so, I just wanted to say a big thanks to everyone that's been listening in. It's been a real joy to work on the podcast this year, and we'll catch you in 2022 with many more episodes to come.