Market Watch

Amazon Joins Market for Original Internet Programming with Six New Shows


The retail titan jumps into the fray, competing with the likes of Netflix, Yahoo and Hulu

Amazon—far from being content with its role in serving streaming video and music—is now moving into original Internet programming, with six new series green-lit to pilot that would set the online retail giant against other players in a still-fledgling space, according to an IHS Screen Digest commentary from information and analytics provider IHS. 

A total of 271 clips, series, short-form series and channels have been produced by eight major U.S. Internet platforms as of late January 2013, representing the extent of original Internet programming on the Web. The aggregate includes 19 original series, 57 short-form series, 125 channels and 70 clips. These shows were all produced and financed by their respective platforms, which differentiates them from the countless Web videos made by individual entities and then uploaded for others to view.

Meanwhile, the major platforms include such established over-the-top cable content providers like Netflix and Hulu, as well as U.S. broadcast entities The WB.com and CW Digital. Video-sharing website YouTube, early on the scene with user-generated content, is present, having funded production as of 2011. The others include search engine and Internet portal Yahoo, along with digital studio Crackle owned by Sony Pictures Entertainment.

And now, Amazon joins the mix with the announcement of six pilots in December. The shows—all comedies—include “Browsers,” about staff writers for a news site; and “Those Who Can’t,” about young teachers working in a deadbeat school.

Amazon’s move follows through on its open-submissions Amazon Studios project, which invited both amateur as well as professional writing and directing talent to upload or develop ideas for shows on the Web. The pilots have either been open-sourced using this system (“Those Who Can’t”), or commissioned on a studio model from established talent (“Browsers”). Amazon already sells videos and music that can be streamed from its site, and subscribers who pay for the Prime service in the United States will be able to stream the pilots at no additional cost.

YouTube announced its move into professionalized proprietary content only a little over a year ago, and to date funds 125 U.S. channels spanning comedy, factual, sports and entertainment. Channels—a name inviting a somewhat misleading comparison with a television channel—work like “brands,” under which a curated selection of similar clips and shows, often made by the same creators, are collected. A top YouTube Original Channel like “Mondo”—a massively successful destination for comedy clips—has a huge database of alternative, subversive traditional and CGI animation. Also one of the most subscribed channels on the site is World Wrestling Entertainment’s YouTube channel, featuring behind-the-scenes interviews as well as clips of broadcast wrestling footage.

Some 70 clips in all can likewise be found, 68 of which are in Yahoo, including “7 Minutes to Heaven,” where the host invites celebrities to what it bills as “intimate conversation.”

Original Internet programming can likewise take the form of a series—19 of them to date—with episodes that are 20 minutes or longer; or short-form series—a total of 57 for now— cut into shorter clips but, in common with television series, feature a narrative connection between episodes.

Original series, whether factual or scripted, distinguish a platform’s offering from that of its competitors. If the show becomes a hit, revenue can then become possible in the form of licensing and physical disc sales. More original content also reduces a platform’s dependence on other suppliers to provide material. But because original Internet programming is still in its early stages, success is difficult to gauge. When success can be measured at all—as in the number of subscriptions attained by a specific YouTube channel—translating success directly into profit for the company remains a challenging proposition.

Amazon, however, has a key advantage in being able to leverage rights tied to its original programming, given the firm’s ability to promote direct physical-disc sales as part of its retail goods business. This perhaps explains its focus on scripted genres, as they translate best to disc.

Amazon’s initiatives come amid increasing moves by online brands to create exclusive content. Netflix, for instance, has spent $2 million to $5 million per episode for its high-end original drama series “House of Cards.” For its part, Yahoo will finance a comedy, to be called “Ghost Girls,” likely for broadcast in the 10-minute-segment format already used by its drama “Cybergeddon.”

The fruits of such commissions will emerge sometime this year. “House of Cards” will be among the first, with a debut in early February. One can also expect the rise of commissioning as the platforms deepen commitment, deploying their own original shows to vie for a share of the online video advertising market.

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