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Amazon Still Facing Hurdles as Prime Video Volume Grows

Amazon’s volume of original TV shows and movies is growing at a fast clip. But the world’s largest retailer is still battling a disconnect with some consumers in providing easy access to its menu of original content.

That list includes David E. Kelley, the prominent exec producer of its new Billy Bob Thornton-William Hurt legal drama series “Goliath.”

“I am a little daunted by the fact that Amazon shows aren’t the easiest to watch,” Kelley admitted Sunday following the show’s session at the Television Critics Association press tour at the Beverly Hilton.

Many newer connected TV sets come with the Amazon Prime app already set on the home screen, making it easy for members to stream shows in their living rooms. But the app is not supported yet on other interfaces such Apple TV and Google’s Chromecast because of business issues. For viewers, that can mean a hiccup in finding shows.

“I’m a dinosaur. I just turn on the remote and want to see it come on the screen,” Kelley said. “Netflix has been easy to figure out. Amazon’s a little harder. You gotta get a gizmo and a gadget and a hookup and a sync-up. They need to get better at that, and they are. But it’s a concern.”

The subject of easy access to Amazon programming also came up during the brief Q&A session with Amazon Studios chief Roy Price. Price stressed that the technical issues were not his domain, but he suggested the Kindle Fire or Fire TV Stick as an easy and cheap fix for anyone having trouble.

“It’s pretty inexpensive,” he said. “It’s a great interface and experience.”

That the issue of getting programming to the TV set surfaced for a programming executive session underscored how new Amazon is to the business of content, even with all the strides it’s made during the past three years since its first original series — political comedy “Alpha House” — bowed in November 2013.

On Sunday, Price confirmed that “Alpha House” is no more — or “not a current series,” as he put it — after two seasons.

That led to a discussion with the reporters in the room about Amazon’s modus operandi when it comes to confirming cancellations of series and pickups for the pilots that it test drives with users. All of which provided more evidence that Amazon — a corporate giant that just released glowing second quarter earnings — is still working out the kinks of how it interfaces with the entertainment industry establishment.

“We can certainly review how we communicate that,” Price said.

“The Interestings,” a drama pilot released in June, is not moving forward, Price confirmed. The project had a high-profile cast in Lauren Ambrose, David Krumholtz and Jessica Pare and was based on the book by Meg Wolitzer.

Price said Amazon is committed to its system of putting completed pilots up for viewer reviews before deciding whether to order the project to series. But that feedback is only one factor in greenlight decisions. Perhaps the most important determinate rests with the creative team, he said.

“The key thing is you have to have a visionary, passionate creator,” Price said. “To some extent, you have to not get lost in the weeds on the data and look at the meta-point. We back (creators’) unique insight and vision and dreams. We do that for a reason — to kick this whole thing to the next level.”

To that end, Amazon’s slate of new series, ranging from Tig Notaro’s autobiographical “One Mississippi” to the British import “Fleabag” to period drama “Good Girls Revolt,” was generally well received by the TCA crowd. A sneak peek clip of “The Grand Tour” promises to reunite the “Top Gear” trio of Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May in the camaraderie-and-competition format that made the BBC motoring show such a worldwide hit (before Clarkson got fired last year for an altercation with a producer).

Price declined when pressed to give a ballpark figure for Amazon’s spending on original content. Earlier in the day, Joe Lewis, Amazon’s head of half-hour programming, told Variety that the company is spending twice as much in the second half of this year on originals — including TV shows, movies and children’s programs — as it did in the same frame in 2015. And that works out to three times as much programming for those who fork over $99 for Amazon Prime membership.

“We’re just trying to get more stuff to Prime members,” Lewis said. “We’ve been pretty transparent that we’re trying to make great TV to get people to sign up for Prime.”

Lewis offered TCA attendees a sneak peek of three upcoming Amazon half-hour pilots: “I Love Dick,” from “Transparent” creator Jill Soloway; the action spoof “Jean-Claude Van Johnson” starring Jean-Claude Van Damme; and the revival of “The Tick.”

Lewis said there was a chance that all three could get picked up to series.

“We don’t have a linear schedule to fill,” Lewis said. “We’re never going to not make something that customers love.”

Price was pressed on the future of its Woody Allen comedy series “Crisis in Six Scenes.” Amazon is game to do more episodes, Price said, but he’s not sure if Allen is ready to commit. He also confirmed that the Bryan Cranston-David Shore drama series “Sneaky Pete,” which was originally developed at CBS last year, won’t premiere until next year.

Daniel Holloway contributed to this report.

(Pictured: Roy Price)

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