The old formula of ordering scripts, shooting a pilot, and then airing to focus groups is long gone. The process, which is unscientific and expensive, often doesn’t work, yet remains how much of the industry continues to operate.
Following Netflix’s cue, online retail giant Amazon.com Inc. is sidestepping this method and is setting out onto its own foray into original TV show production. Soon Amazon will debut 14 of its own TV show pilots online, allowing anyone from the US, UK and Germany to watch for free. The company will ask for viewer feedback, allowing the audience to decide which shows sink or swim.
“Why follow the guru method when you don’t have to anymore?” asks Roy Price, director of Amazon Studios. “The audience is out there and the audience is interested. We might as well make them a partner in the process.”
The completed series will be available for free to Amazon Prime subscribers, a $79-a-year rewards program. Prime, which launched in 2005 with the promise of free two-day shipping, has expended internationally and allows members to borrow e-books as well as to watch movies and TV shows on computers, smartphones and Internet-connected TVs.
With the release of original content, Amazon is joining the recent trend of audience power via web. Nowadays, online buzz can make or break a movie, crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter can help generate fans and startup capital before filming and writers don’t have to worry about time-slot competition killing their shows.
“We’re not just playing that time-slot game,” says Alan Cohen, a producer of the Amazon comedy pilot Betas. “Here you have the opportunity to put it out, and it doesn’t matter exactly what time it airs. People can find the show and it’ll be out there.”
Amazon will be joining the competition among Netflix, which debuted its original series “House of Cards” in February to critical acclaim, and Hulu, which has sought out the talents of Eva Longoria of “Desperate Housewives” to star in its 13-episode series “Mother Up.”