Amazon Studios will bow its first two original productions this month — “Alpha House” on Nov. 15 and “Betas” on Nov. 22 — offering the first three episodes of each show free as an enticement to sign up for its free-shipping membership service.
The strategy behind releasing the first three episodes for anyone to watch is so viewers “can try out the shows and get to know the characters,” Roy Price, director of Amazon Studios, said in announcing the launches. “Then we will release new episodes via Prime Instant Video week by week so that customers can chat about the shows and build up anticipation.”
The Amazon strategy deviates from Netflix’s binge-viewing model of releasing all episodes of a show at the same time. And while both players are vying for share of subscription VOD customers, their goals are different: Netflix simply wants to attract and retain streaming-video subscribers, while Amazon is making originals part of its customers-loyalty program to ultimately drive more purchases from its e-commerce engine.
Amazon has spent between $1 million and $2 million per episodes on the originals, according to an industry source familiar with the project. That’s in line with cable TV and higher other web-video productions, while Netflix has reportedly paid even higher rates for exclusives like “House of Cards.”
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Amazon Studios greenlighted the two half-hour comedies after releasing 14 initial pilots this spring, to solicit feedback from Internet users. Its order for 11-episode series of “Alpha House” and “Betas” was partially based on those viewer ratings and other metrics but Amazon execs ultimately made the decision on a range of factors.
The company last week greenlit its first hour-long drama pilots — apocalyptic thriller “The After” from Chris Carter (“The X-Files”) and cop procedural “Bosch” — and also announced an exclusive streaming pact for TNT’s “Falling Skies” for its subscription-video service. Amazon Studios has three kids’ series set to debut in early 2014, along with other pilots.
“Alpha House” was written by “Doonesbury” creator Garry Trudeau and produced by Trudeau, Elliot Webb and Jonathan Alter. Comedy stars John Goodman as a GOP senator who rents a house with three other senators (Clark Johnson, Matt Malloy and Mark Consuelos). Other cast includes Cynthia Nixon (“Sex and the City”), Amy Sedaris (“Strangers with Candy”), Wanda Sykes (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”) and Julie White (“Go On”).
Silicon Valley startup satire “Betas” follows four friends as they attempt to strike it rich with a new mobile social networking app. Show was written by Evan Endicott and Josh Stoddard and stars Joe Dinicol, Karan Soni, Jon Daly, Charlie Saxton and Maya Erskine with a special appearance by Ed Begley Jr. (“Arrested Development”). Michael Lehmann directed and produced along with Alan Freedland, Alan Cohen and Michael London.
According to Amazon, it’s just coincidence that the first two originals out of the gate are the initial letters of the Greek alphabet.
The first three episodes of each show will be available for free via Amazon Instant Video online at amazon.com/AIV on a range of devices, including Kindle Fire, iPad, iPhone, Roku, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii and Wii U. After that, one episode of each show will become available weekly, exclusively on Prime Instant Video, which is available as part of the $79-per-year Prime program that offers free shipping on select items.