When you think of web series and original content you probably think along the lines of YouTube (multi-channel networks (MCNs), user-created content), Netflix or Hulu (self funded and created programming to compliment a third-party licensed content). Amazon, the humongozoid of all things shopping, is less likely to wave flags in your mind’s eye: but Amazon is quietly running the production belts at full whack in order to catch up.
Amazon Instant Video is Amazon’s competitor to streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu. Amazon launched 14 original programming pilot episodes back in April this year and, based on the reception received, decided to move 5 of them into full production, being Alpha House (starring John Goodman and Cynthia Nixon), Betas, Creative Galaxy, Annebots and Tumbleaf. The first two shows are set to be adult comedies whereas the latter three are children’s shows. We can expect these programmes to start hitting our screens in within the next 6 months.
Second up is Amazon Studios. This represents Amazon actively seeking out script and idea submissions from the general public. Amazon then sift through the submissions and the survivors get $10,000 in order to fund development of the concept.
After initial funding the project goes on the ‘development slate’ which involves allowing access by the general public to the raw materials, such as the script. Yes, the scripts themselves can actually be downloaded for comment and criticism from message board patrons. Once knocked about a bit (sorry, refined) a show can grow into full production, with financial incentives such as a 5% cut of merchandising receipts and $55,000 to the series creator.
Not only that, but Amazon Studios have recently hired a new head of drama in Morgan Wandell. Wandell was behind the commission and development of hit TV series such as Criminal Minds and Ugly Betty. This shows a real desire by Amazon to follow the Netflix model and grab some of that sweet and juicy critical acclaim that the latter has been hogging like a rotund internet pig.
Amazon are also looking to jump into more YouTube-esque short form videos. With both RealSEO and AdAge reporting that major YouTube MCN’s have been quietly approached by Amazon in an attempt to woo them away from the Google owned giant. The fact that MCN’s have been griping for years about a lack of profitability through YouTube (also evidenced by Maker Studio’s recent ‘buy-out’ of YouTube competitor, Blip) shouldn’t make this a hard sell.
Amazon are in an excellent market position to make a real splash in web series content, be it feature-length or short form. Amazon own IMDB and therefore have access to a wide array of movie licensing content. They also should have little problem effectively synching up their own extensive product library to give more monetizing options to web series creators than ad revenue alone. At the very least the product identification, placement, and affiliate services should be a valuable asset.
It’s unclear whether Amazon is going for a piecemeal growth approach or is trying to manoeuvre all the elements into place before exploding on to the scene in one big bang. What with Netflix winning critical acclaim and even an Emmy for its original programming (showing that not only can this be done, but done very well indeed) and YouTube struggling to find a way to keep the big named producers happy, Amazon should be able to make one hell of a dent in the industry on ‘launch’ by learning on how to adopt these models to its already entrenched infrastructure.
At the moment nothing has come to full fruition in terms of web series and so it is difficult to judge what the eventual quality will be. But it would be a fool who underestimates what this, once simple book retailer, can do.
Stay alert, boys and girls.