Amazon Original Pilots – The Future Of TV?
Last week Amazon announced that it was moving from merely streaming and selling TV and movies to creating them. The move has seen them release 14 original pilot TV shows free online and encourages viewers to fill out a quick survey about their thoughts on the show. The shows range from kids TV to adult comedies. In principle, the shows with the best feedback will be commissioned for a full series that will, most likely, be exclusively available through Amazons’ streaming service Lovefilm. For British viewers the concept of pilot episodes might seem a bit alien. In the U.S, networks commission a pilot from a production company and air it publicly to get reaction, before committing to a half or full series. Here in the UK, pilots are made for the broadcasters and are often only viewed by executives. For example, before the BBC commissioned Sherlock, a pilot of the first episode ‘A Study In Pink’ was created with Cumberbatch and Freeman. This pilot is an extra on the first season DVD. It does make you wonder whether somewhere there is a room full of all these pilots that never got made into a series. The concept, therefore, for Britons is quite exciting. It adds a level of democracy to the television production process, with a certain level of power given to the viewer. It also gives opportunities for young and new filmmakers to start their careers. According to TBIvision “Over 14,000 movie scripts and 4,000 series pilot scripts have been submitted to Amazon Studios”. Lovefilms chief marketing officer Simon Morris, told the BBC that:
“The platform is open…not everyone has the opportunity to go and pitch an idea to HBO in New York, not everyone can get on a plane to Cannes and pitch a script,” he said. “But there is now a vehicle whereby people are in a place that independent writers – whether they’ve got a track record or not – can put content through and it can be evaluated and brought to market. And that’s the exciting thing about this.”
Online only programming is not an entirely new concept, but it’s still in its early days. It’s been happening for a long time with small production companies and amateur filmmakers. Recently though, the big names have been getting involved. Hulu has been a champion of this format. In 2011 I watched a 10 part mini web series called ‘The Confession‘ starring Keifer Sutherland and John Hurt. Huge names for a series where each episode was under 10 minutes. The writers and producers were very clever and used the limited time for each episode to their advantage. Of course, this was still only a relatively small ripple in the TV production ocean. The real kick was to begin when streaming services became more prominent. Earlier this year, House of Cards, starring Kevin Spacey was the first big move into this market. Premiered exclusively on Netflix with a big advertising campaign behind it, the series did well and a second series has been commissioned. Not to be out done by its rivals, Amazon was not far behind. In typical Amazon style they stepped it up a notch too. The 14 pilots are just the first step, Amazon studios are also reportedly developing 25 movies. Amazon is even talking about creating its own set top box. Traditional broadcasters are joining in on the revolution now as well, with the BBC commissioning drama series exclusively for its Iplayer service.
So what’s the big deal you might be asking? Well it marks a significant change in the media landscape and is potentially setting out the future of television consumption. There is a large debate going on as to whether there will be a shift from traditional broadcasting with schedules to pure on demand services. After all, it puts us in control. We decide when we watch something, not having to fit our lives around our favourite shows. No waiting till next week to watch the next episode, we can watch them in marathon viewings. Some even argue traditional schedules will no longer exist in the future. I don’t think that will be quite the case, but there certainly is a shift occurring. There are a lot of positives to this new form of television, but we still need to be cautious. Firstly, there is cost, as Stuff magazine note; “The online TV revolution could end up being very expensive for the viewer”. There are a lot of these online streaming services now. Not only do we have the big names, Netflix and Lovefilm, but Sky have recently come into this market with Now TV and Tesco own streaming service Blinkbox. There are a number of smaller services as well and don’t be surprised if Apple, Google, Virgin and BT offer these services before long. After all, most of these already have their own unique on demand services and rental choices to one degree or another. As stuff point out “If each of these media companies start making programmes for their online wings, how are we going to watch them all? Paying separately for several services, or even just Netflix and Lovefilm is more than most people would be willing to stomach”.
Then there is also the cultural aspect that comes with having a schedule for TV. There is something special about millions of people watching something at the same time. Think Twitter trends from your favourite TV show and talking points in the media the next day; these aspects would all be gone in a purely on demand environment. Likewise, research suggests that on demand services can be damaging to groups. Imagine friends and families no longer gathering to watch their favourite show because they have all watched it in their own time.
There is certainly a lot to think about with this potential ‘revolution’, but for now lets enjoy the new content and services on offer.
Look out for my new post reviewing the various pilots on Amazon later in the week
- Amazon Studios Reveals Strong Viewer Reviews for Pilots (screenrant.com)
- Is Netflix the future of TV? (telegraph.co.uk)
- The Future of TV Broadcasting? (jivanward.wordpress.com)