The Secrets of Amazon Video

John Goodman in Alpha House

It took Forbes magazine to track down the head of Amazon’s in-house video production department. But he revealed Amazon’s part in a new trend that’s silently changing the world. Right now Amazon is producing more new TV shows each year than any of the TV networks. And they even have the money to fund the same high-quality productions that you’d find on a premium cable channel like HBO!

To check out Amazon’s free original TV programs, point your browser to

It’s just not the same as network TV — and that’s one of the big new changes, according to the producer of Amazon’s Betas. “Creatively, Amazon has left us to our own devices…” he told one technology blog. “[T]hey really wanted us to go for it, which is refreshing without any network shackles of storytelling!” It’s good for viewers — but the mind-boggling thing is this was all willed into existence by one giant shopping web site!

At the center of it all is a poor Amazon executive who has to keep shuttling from Seattle to Los Angeles. (“If you want to make TV shows, you gotta go to L.A.,” he tells Forbes, joking that Alaska Airlines has given him their “MVP Gold” status.) Their profile is fascinating, noting that he started out at Amazon more than 9 years ago, when their video section was just a place for buying DVDs. “I can remember one studio head saying to me… ‘No one is ever going to download one of our movies.’

“And you know, eight months later you have a deal with them…”

It’s a new world now, with streaming video allowing people to watch anything, any time — and sometimes even any where! Price points out that now viewers have a lot of new choices, and “You need to really want to watch the show in modern TV… It’s not about changing the channel anywhere, or just seeing what’s on…” I like how he identifies the specific difference in strategy that these new shows will have to adopt. “A while ago you had to focus more on breadth of enthusiasm rather than depth of enthusiasm…There are shows in the past that were not as distinctive but universally palatable that would have been valuable, but today for us would not be valuable.”

It’s a good time for creative television now — original, high-quality shows with “distinctive” new ideas. And Amazon is even “crowdsourcing” some of that creativity – letting us viewers choose which shows we want to see more of. It makes sense, argues Amazon’s studio director, because that’s how you find the loyal viewers who will care enough about a show to track it down online — and keep coming back to it. And over time, Price predicts, while there may be some show taht fail, a lot of them ” will find something that is distinctive and worth saying and has an audience.”

But will they be profitable? Will advertisers support the shows, or will viewers simply pay to watch them? The whole concept is still in flux, but Amazon Studios’ director seems to think that there’s an answer that will fall into place. “I have no doubt we’ll see a lot of experimentation and artistic success. And then we’ll figure out the business side…”

Of course, there’s a third business model. Amazon’s TV shows are free if you sign up for their “Prime” delivery service. It offers a year of free two-day shipping (and a discount on one-day shipping), but Amazon’s sweetening the deal with a free ebook once a month — plus a library of free video titles. Their original shows are just one more way to lure customers into the one-year program — although Amazon’s studio director see it as creating a stronger bond. “[I]’s all about providing value for customers, making the service feel unique and distinctive, and having a relationship with customers where they are coming back … Part of the purpose of original content is to get people to really engage with the service.

You can check out Amazon’s TV shows even if your not a Prime subscriber, since the first few episodes of each series are always available online. You can even watch them on the web, if you’re not already watching them on your Kindle Fire tablet. The way that we watch TV is already changing, and we’re headed into an entirely new world. But in the end, it’s a change that we all have a role in. Because the people who get to decide whether Amazon’s video programs are really worth watching are…us!

For a shortcut to Amazon’s original programs, point your browser to

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