Amazon Studios opens door to TV

Net retailer calls for submissions of comedy, kidvid pilot scripts

Amazon is extending its ambitious experiment in film production to television.

Tech giant’s development unit for original programming, Amazon Studios, issued an open call for submissions Wednesday for scripts that could serve as pilots for comedy or kids series. Move represents an expansion of a similar initiative launched in late 2010 for films, which has since yielded a slate of 15 projects culled from 7,000 scripts that have been submitted to date.

Each month, Amazon will option a TV script for $10,000 within 45 days of submission and award an additional $55,000 plus royalties, bonuses and a small percentage of merchandise if it chooses to produce the winning idea. Aspiring scribes need to submit a five-page summary plus script.

In a twist on the traditional closed-door approach to development in Hollywood, greenlight decisions will be heavily informed by feedback its users will provide when given the option via Amazon Instant Video to view animatics or video excerpts of proposed projects.

“People look for the next Brandon Tartikoff,” said Amazon Studios director Roy Price, citing the famed NBC programming chief of the 1980s. “Our version of it is, we’re not so much looking for the next Brandon Tartikoff but we’re all Brandon Tartikoffs, not as individuals but collectively.”

Crowdsourcing development is perfectly in character for Amazon, whose execs have always prided themselves on building its massive digital retail efforts by closely studying consumer behavior to anticipate their needs.

Amazon Studios is not, however, reinventing the wheel. The unit still plans to create pilots for shows before ordering additional episodes. And efforts will be overseen by execs hired from Hollywood including Joe Lewis, a former director of production at 20th Century Fox, who will oversee comedy, and Tara Sorensen from National Geographic Kids.

Amazon’s extension into TV isn’t entirely surprising given that the company accidentally signaled its intentions by openly advertising for those positions a few months ago.

Amazon may also be feeling some competitive pressure from Netflix and Hulu, which have already begun distributing original series. Amazon has both an a la carte offering with thousands of catalog TV and movies (its own originals will end up there), as well as a subscription VOD component to its Prime service.

For film, Amazon has a first-look deal with Warner Bros., but no such pact will be struck on the TV side because Amazon Instant Video will be the first window for any programming developed. Price would not put a timetable on how soon Amazon will actually release either a TV or film project, nor reveal a budget estimate for what will be sought.

Creatively speaking on the TV side, Price said he’s considering both live-action and animation concepts. Amazon Studios’ expansion into TV brings his career full circle considering that he spent five years at Disney developed TV programming including the Disney Channel hit “Kim Possible.” Son of former Universal Pictures chief Frank Price, he first broke into Hollywood as an assistant to CAA’s Richard Lovett.

He left Disney in 2000 with a growing interest in Internet opportunities. He’s been at Amazon since 2006, launching Amazon Instant Video before moving onto Amazon Studios.

“We started with film and an open mind,” Price said. “We’ve always been enthusiastic about taking on TV.”