Amazon to produce 5 original series for streaming service
Viewer feedback helped determine which pilots would be picked up
Amazon.com Inc. said Wednesday that it will produce a pair of comedies and three children's programs for viewing on its video streaming service, capping a one-of-a-kind experiment that gave viewers a say in the selections.
The five shows were culled from 14 pilots that were put up for free on its website and made available over Amazon's video apps on mobile devices and game consoles starting in April. Executives looked at ratings, reviews and view counts in a process that upended traditional TV show development. Traditional TV studios generally screen pilot episodes before small focus groups and executives before determining which go into production.
The shows announced are Amazon's first original series.
Number of viewers much bigger than focus group
Roy Price, director of Amazon Studios, said he was gratified that the pilots generated hundreds of thousands of views from people in the U.S. and Britain. He said the company looks forward to repeating the process again.
"Once you have hundreds of thousands of people watch a specific pilot, you're not talking about a focus group anymore," Price said in a phone interview from Amazon's Seattle headquarters. "You're asking your actual audience how they feel about it."
The comedies selected include Alpha House, created by Garry Trudeau and starring John Goodman. It's about four senators who rent a house together in Washington. Meanwhile, Betas follows four friends and the new mobile social networking app they are developing.
The new kids shows are Annebots, which centres on a young scientist and her robot helpers, Creative Galaxy, an animated series, and Tumbleaf, which is aimed at preschoolers.
Comedies to have 10 episodes
Amazon has been trying to develop movies and TV shows based on thousands of scripts it has received since soliciting them in November 2010, although only one of the 14 pilots made for viewer feedback came out of that process. It was Those Who Can't and wasn't ultimately selected.
Another show that didn't make the cut was Zombieland, which came from the creators of the hit Columbia Pictures movie of the same name. Price said it is possible for some failed pilots to be reworked and tested again.
Price said that 10 episodes will be made for each of the two comedies. Amazon has yet to determine how many episodes of each kids show will be made. The series are to air in the U.S., Britain and Germany later this year or next year.
Shows only for Amazon Prime subscribers
Other than some possible free sampling, the videos will be made available only to subscribers of Amazon Prime, the online retailer's $79-a-year membership plan. Amazon Prime also provides customers with free two-day shipping on certain items bought at Amazon.com; access to a book borrowing club; and other videos to watch.
Amazon is still considering whether to release all the episodes for a season at once — the way Netflix Inc. has done with its original series such as House of Cards and Arrested Development — or to release them in spurts or one at a time.
Amazon competes in subscription video with such services as Netflix and Hulu Plus, which have made their own significant forays into original programming. But Amazon has an added motivation to get people to sign up for Prime memberships, which make them more likely to purchase other things from the online retailer.
Although Netflix didn't have subscribers watch pilots before committing to a full season, the service has extensive data on viewer habits. With Arrested Development, Netflix studied how the first three seasons of the original series performed on its service after it was cancelled by the Fox cable television network in 2006.