After evaluating more than 4,000 submissions and commissioning more than a dozen half-hour pilots, Amazon Studios is ready to roll. The "Hollywood" division of the online shopping giant is making 14 pilots available on Amazon Instant Video in the U.S, and the Amazon subscription services Lovefilm UK and Lovefilm Germany, to watch for free and rate and review them.
The pilots include shows from established talent and studios, as well as up and comers who cut their teeth online.
The lineup includes a big slate of comedies, led by "Alpha House," starring John Goodman with cameos by Bill Murray and Stephen Colbert and "Onion News Empire," with Jeffrey Tambor, as well as a musical "Browsers" starring Bebe Neuwirth. "Big Bang Theory" co-stars Kevin Sussman and John Ross Bowie are behind a comedy, "Dark Minions," and Ed Begley Jr. and Jon Daly star in "Betas," which has some Silicon Valley flavor. In addition, the pilots include an animated comedy, "Supanatural"; "Zombieland," based on the hit movie; and "Those Who Can't," which was submitted and developed by team online with no previous Hollywood experience.
Kids shows include "Creative Galaxy," an arts and music show from "Blue's Clues" creator Angela Santomero; "Oz Adventures," a problem-solving program featuring the kids of characters from L. Frank Baum's "The Wizard of Oz;" "Teeny Tiny Dogs," a series produced by The Jim Henson Company and created by "Rugratz" director Howard Baker; "Tumbleaf," a stop-motion show for preschoolers; and an untitled series from "Dino Dan" creator J.J. Johnson about a young scientist named Anne who does experiments with the help of three robot assistants.
Whether the pilots get the green light for a full season of episodes will depend on what the data says. It's Amazon's studio, after all, and data is king. "The goal is to get customer feedback, to understand which ones customers are excited about and are promising," said Amazon Studios head Roy Price. The studio was formed in Nov. 2010, with a focus on crowd-sourced, high-quality TV and movie programming.
"It will be interesting to see the disparate sources of data, from consumption data to offline focus groups and online surveys, and tranches of data from UK and Germany," Price said. "It's a lot of data. The task will be to bring it in and interpret is, and assess the storytelling. Amazon has the technical capabilities to see what customers are trying to tell us."
"Some shows or movies are really interesting and trying to do something new but may seem risky in some respects. Those ideas can be assessed with this kind of popular feedback, giving some reassurance that an idea could be embraced on the large scale," Price said.
Amazon Studios owns most of the shows, with the exception of a few licensed pilots, such as Zombieland. "Our goal is to get shows that customers are really excited about. We don't have a major agenda about whether we own it or license," Price said. The production costs are in line with normal budget for premium cable and TV half hour programs, he added.
Price said that Amazon is considering different options delivering the episode, including launching all episodes at once, as Netflix did successfully with "House of Cards."
"There's no question that people watch a number of shows in row, but in order to release all at once you have to hold back and the episodes pile up on the shelf. I'm not sure that is in the spirit of maximizing customer choice," he said. "It could be hybrid model, launching with four episodes and then weekly."
Once Amazon decides which pilots will live on, the release of follow-on episodes will depend on production schedules. "We have to allow time to produce shows in a first class way," Price said.
The shows that get orders for more episodes will be available for free to the $79 a year for Amazon Prime members. Amazon's strategy is to increase the number of prime members, who purchase six to eight times more items from Amazon than non-members, said Benchmark analyst Daniel Kurnos.
"The key is to try to find a great show and talented, passionate creators who are trying to do something new and tell a good story. If we follow that path, we will find the right audience for that show," Price said.