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Will Amazon Change Television?

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It wasn’t that long ago I was pondering in this column, “will Netflix change television?” Now, with the streaming release of 14 comedy and children’s’ pilots by Amazon this week (the dramas will be forthcoming), even more changes are afoot in the television landscape.

Streaming video is nothing new. YouTube has been around for quite awhile. It’s even been pushing “channels,” including Felicia Day’s “Geek & Sundry” for some time. And websites like Revision3, CollegeHumor, and FunnyOrDie have also made some inroads in web-based programming. But these all mainly feature shorts, and despite a couple of big blips, and Day building herself a very respectable reputation, none of them have had a consistent runaway hit nor as widely viewed as anything on a traditional network.

Amazon and Netflix hope to change that. Already having large platforms and subscriber bases, they are making carving a new path by producing recognizable programming blocks – hour long dramas and half hour sitcoms. This hybrid of new and old provides a possible bridge for those not yet fully embracing the digital revolution, giving them a familiar-looking access point. So it seems natural that those companies might as well offer their own original content alongside the shows they buy or rent from other companies.

Because Netflix and Amazon are not beholden to the traditional model, meaning they don’t need to kowtow to advertisers or negotiate with cable providers, they aren’t reigned in by the same restrictions as traditional networks. It gives them freedom to experiment and change the game, making them pioneers that, depending on their success or lack thereof, others may try to emulate. There is a lot of potential for Netflix and Amazon to become the leaders of the next entertainment wave.

Netflix’s approach makes sense for its customer base. It develops high-quality series, and then releases an entire season at once, giving the public the opportunity to watch an entire series without waiting a week for a new episode.

Amazon is taking a different approach, involving the consumer much earlier in the process. Traditional networks order and review a bunch of pilots and then decide which ones to pick up. Amazon is putting this choice in the hands of their customers by releasing a number of ordered pilots publicly, and then gauging interest from crowd sourcing to see if a series should be made.

On one hand, this is Amazon asking us to do its job. Rather than having to review and consider possibilities themselves, they are just putting stuff out there and seeing what everyone thinks. It takes a big chunk of work and decision making away from them.

On the other hand, this may be a much more effective way to do business. Why let a handful of corporate folks decide what we should get to see? We are the ones who watch (or don’t watch) the shows. Shouldn’t we have a say in what is produced?

It’s actually a smart thing to do. By allowing the public to pick which pilots it likes, Amazon is guaranteeing an audience before spending the money to produce an entire series. It’s a lower risk investment, and a way to make sure the company delivers what the people want.

It also benefits the viewer. We get to tell Amazon what we want. We aren’t beholden to what a small group of people think, but rather chart the course for the company. It makes so much sense that it’s a wonder no one has done it before now.

Now, the public at large doesn’t necessarily choose things wisely. There are plenty of people who enjoy quality, smartly written programs, and grumble when American Idol or NCIS tops the ratings chart. Hopefully, Amazon will keep this in mind and give some weight to what is the best-made show, rather than just what is the most liked. But there is definitely a happy balance of the two to be found, and given that Amazon is judging based on multiple criteria, the company may very well have thought about this issue already.

If it succeeds, and I really hope it does, this could be something easily adaptable by the traditional networks. What if, instead of airing reruns through March, NBC, ABC, and the others let us check out the pilots they are considering? It could provide a needed boost during a season when reruns typically mean lower ratings, and make “pilot season” a highly anticipated “event.” TV fans might take a sense of pride and ownership in a show they help vote into life. I am completely in favor of this technique. I’ve only watched a few of Amazon’s shows thus far, but it seems there is a decent variety, and I look forward to checking out more.

Will it spread? Who knows? But I hope so.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com