Amazon is letting viewers help choose its new
lineup of TV shows, scuttling a secretive, wasteful process once reserved for Hollywood taste-makers.
The online retailing giant will let visitors from the U.S, U.K. and Germany watch, rate and critique 14 pilot episodes the company has bankrolled. Viewer comments will help the company decide which shows -- if any -- get the green light.
"Why follow the guru method when you don't have to anymore?" says 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."
Amazon's foray into TV production is unique in the way it saves money. Every spring, traditional TV networks like ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox order dozens of pilots and show them to focus groups. Executives pick just a handful to make into series. Then, they commission 13 episodes of each promising show, with each one potentially costing a few million dollars. Many episodes won't ever air if the first few don't attract big audiences.
Amazon.com Inc. is riding a wave of Internet-fueled people power that is transforming the entertainment industry. Crowdsourcing, the act of soliciting content and ideas from the online masses, is getting its moment in the spotlight. Online buzz can make or break movies these days. And crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter help generate fans and startup capital before would-be producers start filming.
Testing: Amazon is testing the market with kids' shows and comedies, each just a half hour long. Going into full production will pay off if enough people sign up to pay $79 a year for Amazon Prime, a service that offers free shipping on Amazon orders, an e-book borrowing service as well as home and mobile access to movies and TV shows. Prime members will get access to the full original series when completed. Others may get access if they pay.
Under the age-old TV model, any number of things can derail a program's ability to draw an audience in its early days -- a weak lead-in show, for instance, or competition from a big event like the Major League Baseball playoffs.
Alan Cohen, a producer of the Amazon comedy pilot, "Betas," says Amazon's new way of launching shows could offer show creators some welcome relief from the pressure of network TV.