The speed of change in the TV business is mind boggling. The pie continues to be sliced in smaller and smaller pieces. Traditional TV networks have been under siege for years. Now cable networks, especially pay cable networks, are being attacked.
YouTube, Netflix and Amazon are all looking to be players in this new world. Their business model of the future adds producer to their traditional role as distributor.
Netflix will release 15 new episodes of “Arrested Development” Memorial Day weekend. It will be an exclusive made-for-Netflix production. There is a lot at stake.
Amazon has established Amazon Studios. There’s a lot at stake here too.
Amazon Studios is developing feature films and episodic series in a new way, one that’s open to great ideas from creators—and audiences—around the world. There are two distinctive characteristics of our process:
- We have an open door for creators. There are a lot of great ideas in Hollywood, but not everyone can be there or get their work into the right hands. Amazon Studios is open to ideas from around the world. We are proud to have recognized talented writers and filmmakers in the US, Canada, the UK, China, Zimbabwe, the Dominican Republic and other countries. Great ideas are out there.
- We invite the audience in early. Amazon Studios seeks feedback about projects and ideas, even in their earliest stages. And to reach the most people, we try to shape stories into a form that is short, or visual, or both. We will test premises, storyboards, posters, trailers, test movies, pilots, promos, and other formats to see what people think. Scripts are critically important in development, but they are just not accessible to most audiences.
I sampled one of Amazon’s 14 pilots last night. “Alpha House,” is about four fictitious Republican senators who share a Washington townhouse. Created and written by Garry Trudeau (Doonesbury, Pulitzer Prize, Yale, etc.) and starring John Goodman with Clark Johnson, Matt Malloy and Mark Consuelos, this is no ‘little’ production!
Even Bill Murray did a very brief, very funny, guest stint.
Alpha House was shot entirely in New York using union actors and crew. I’m not sure how it could be made more expensively! Maybe that’s a statement more than a business plan.
What I’m getting at is Amazon, Netflix and YouTube seem ready to invest heavily to stake out their territory quickly. They are going after HBO and Showtime directly and other networks which feature scripted programs peripherally. Cable companies, which will be relegated to passive transmitters and cut out of the direct revenue stream can’t be happy either.
I liked Alpha House. The characters, though slightly over-the-top, were real. The dialog was witty. The acting excellent. The dynamic between the principals was established in a nearly effortless manner. In other words, this show was written to have legs.
What I watched was a pilot, but I’ll be back for more IF it becomes available. Pilots are tests. Not all pass.
The game changer here is this totally new method of distribution where everything is online, on-demand and first run. Dribbling out shows once-per-week is no longer necessary. Nearly everything has changed!