Amazon drafts off Netflix with order for hour-long drama pilots

Amazon Studios orders two pilots for original hour-long dramas early next year, sailing itself right into Netflix's wake after its success with "House of Cards" and "Orange Is the New Black."

A shot from the show "Alpha House" of four characters walking down a hall
Amazon's original comedy "Alpha House" stars John Goodman and follows four misfit Republican senators who rent a house together in Washington, D.C. Amazon just greenlit two more pilots to be vetted by users. Amazon

After focusing its original television efforts on kids and comedy, Amazon Thursday opened the door to series that look a lot like what's in Netflix wheelhouse.

Amazon Studios -- the entertainment production arm of the e-commerce giant -- Thursday said it has given the green light to produce two hour-long drama pilots. One is based on Michael Connelly's best-selling Harry Bosch book series, written by Emmy-nominated Eric Overmyer of "The Wire" and "Treme," and the other is written and directed by "The X-Files" creator Chris Carter.

It puts Amazon on the track to be producing series that are similar to those Netflix has used to kickstart its own original-series push. Netflix has largely focused on edgy hour-long shows like "House of Cards" and "Orange Is the New Black" as it evolves from a repository of outsiders' movies and shows into an subscription online television network with its own content at the fore. The hour-long dramas have won Netflix its highest critical praise and popular buzz, though Netflix also distributed a half-hour comedy with "Arrested Development."

Amazon's move in the Netflix direction comes after a first class of comedy and kids pilots in April yielded plans for the company's first five original series. Amazon has since ordered up five more original pilots for kids and it gave the green light to produce three more half-hour pilots aimed at adults earlier this month .

Like its previous pilots, the latest will also be part of Amazon's strategy to crowdsource opinion about what shows to pick up. The pilots will be available exclusively on Prime Instant Video and Amazon's Lovefilm in the UK in early 2014.

Amazon is aiming to have a couple of pilot "seasons" every year for the public at large to check out and weigh in on. That, along with keeping up an ongoing discussion with customers about new content with tactics like previews for dedicated watchers, creates opportunities to keep viewers -- and potential Amazon Prime subscribers -- interested.

It's a different approach to winning subscribers than that of its biggest competitor in online streaming video, Netflix. While both of the tech giants leverage their troves of consumer-preference data to make content decisions, Netflix plumbs its data for types of program that hold appeal and then selects ideas for new shows that already exist elsewhere in some form -- be it a series overseas, a book, or characters from a movie. Netflix is partnering with producers so far on its originals, spreading the cost of the operations around but also limiting its ownership of the content itself. Amazon is typically the producer of its pilots and shows, giving it more licensing opportunity down the road.

 

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