What does Amazon Studios do?
Amazon launched Amazon Studios in 2010 to begin producing original content. According to the FAQ page on its website, Amazon Studios “[develops] feature films and episodic series in a new way, one that’s open to great ideas from creators—and audiences—around the world.”[i] Amazon uses crowdsourcing in two ways to increase its success rate. First, Amazon Studios has an open-submission policy, meaning it will accept stories from people of all levels of experience. This increases the size of the top of the funnel of film and television production by allowing people that previous had no access to the process to have their stories heard. Second, Amazon Studios crowdsources feedback from consumers on stories that have been selected. The most well-known version of this is Pilot Season, in which Amazon releases the pilot episode of several new series and invites consumers to vote on which series should be ordered for a full season. Less well-known, Amazon Preview is an invite-only community that opens up other parts of the production funnel by allowing members to give feedback on concepts, storyboards, test footage, and pilots prior to Pilot Season.[ii]
How is it different?
Amazon Studios’ process is actually similar to the normal television show production process. Pilot episodes, or a single episode meant to test the potential of a series, are a staple of this process.[iii] In traditional TV, networks are pitched stories by professionals in the industry and order pilots for the ones that are believed to have potential. The pilots are then made by the production companies. Typically, network executives will decide which shows to give full season orders to, occasionally with input from focus groups as a form of consumer feedback. Amazon Studios is only changing this final step by releasing the pilots on Amazon Prime Video to allow consumers to vote and give feedback on which shows should be made. On the other hand, Netflix decided to change this process for its original content, starting with House of Cards, by ordering full seasons of shows without a pilot episode being made (since Netflix does not believe pilots are useful.[iv])
In Amazon Studios’ first Pilot Season, the company received 4,000 script submissions and 14 pilots.[v] Amazon made the pilots available for free, not just Amazon Prime members, increasing the number of votes and feedback on the shows. This allows Amazon to potentially capture more value from consumers that decide to become Amazon Prime members to have access to the full seasons of the shows that are selected. Viewers are asked to fill out a survey to help determine which shows would be given a full season order. Amazon does not release the voting data and makes the final decision of which shows will become full seasons, which allows them to control the crowd. Director of Amazon Studios, Roy Price, described the value of this process by saying, “We’re trying to develop or find shows that will be popular with Amazon customers, so who better to ask than Amazon customers themselves.”[vi] For consumers, they see value in having a say in and seeing the shows they would be interested in ordered for a full season. This is particularly true for niche topics that would unlikely be aired on traditional television.
Does it work?
There is not much data available to determine if the Amazon Studios process is better than the traditional TV process or Netflix’s process, partly because Amazon and Netflix do not release viewership data. However, based on metrics such as on-site ratings, whether the series was renewed for additional seasons, and general acclaim and awards, Amazon’s Pilot Season seems to be a success.[vii] For example, Amazon released Transparent (2015 Golden Globe winner for Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy) and Mozart in the Jungle (2016 Golden Globe winner for Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy) through Pilot Season. This production process, however, does create several challenges for Amazon. First, by widening the top of the funnel, Amazon Studios has more stories to review before deciding on which pilots to produce. Second, Amazon needs to figure out how much weight to put on consumer feedback. Lastly, Pilot Season does not address the issue of whether pilots are actually a good reflection of the success of a series.
How can you get involved?
Amazon just released five pilots this past Friday in its latest Pilot Season. The shows are open for viewing and voting at this link.