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Amazon debuts first original series 'Alpha House'

Amazon premieres its first stab at the kind of homegrown TV that Netflix has made the star of its competing streaming-video service. Unlike its rival, Amazon makes the first shows available to all, just not all at once.

Amazon's original series "Alpha House" follows four Republican senators who share a house.
Amazon's first original series, half-hour political comedy "Alpha House," is up and ready for any Amazon customer who wants to click and watch -- just don't count on a "House of Cards" type of binge, even if you pay for Amazon Prime.

Friday, Amazon kicked off the full season of "Alpha House." The show's pilot was up for all to see earlier this year, and in the last five months, that first episode has been available for any subscriber of Amazon Prime, the online retailer's $79-a-year service that includes second-day shipping and some Kindle e-book loan privileges.

Read: How Amazon Studios went from grassroots idealist to Hollywood threat

Now, the first three episodes of "Alpha House" are up for all customers to watch without charge. Remaining episodes will become available weekly, every Friday, only for Amazon Prime customers.

Amazon's second full series -- "Betas," about a group of misfit friends trying to launch their startup in Silicon Valley -- rolls out November 22 under the same kind of release model.

The original series push is straight out of Netflix's playbook, but Amazon is playing a slightly different game. By releasing most of "Alpha House" and "Betas" week to week, Amazon will avoid a difficulty created by Netflix's practice of releasing its shows all at once: keeping buzz sustained. While Netflix says it's what customers want, it means chatter dies down quickly, without new material spread out over a span of weeks to keep it bubbling up.

The buzz benefit of Amazon releasing its shows week to week, though, depends on the programs starting conversation to begin with, and the company runs the risk of interest petering out rather than building.

In addition, Amazon is giving all customers a free taste of its originals, having found that a good proportion of people who sign up for free trial Prime memberships end up as paying subscribers. Netflix has a one-month free trial offer, but some have questioned whether that allows people to sign up and watch an entire season of originals before quitting without ever paying. Netflix has said that practice is the exception, not the standard.

Though Amazon itself is a behemoth, its Instant Video service is still a featherweight. Amazon Prime's membership rolls are estimated to be about 11 million to 12 million people by analysts, while Netflix has more than 43 million members worldwide. A study by Sandvine, which runs fixed and mobile data networks worldwide, found that Amazon video sites represent just 1.61 percent of North American Internet traffic, while Netflix commands the largest amount of any Web property, 31 percent of the total volume during the peak part of the day.