Amazon and Netflix are dialing up efforts to stand out as more than just streaming services. The two companies hope to emerge as producers of original TV content as well, and on Friday, they released a total of 14 pilot episodes and a new supernatural series.
The 14 pilots come from Amazon Studios, the original content arm of the online mega-retailer. The pilots include six kids shows and eight comedies. After watching a pilot, viewers are urged to vote on the show, using Amazon's five-star rating system. Shows with the best ratings may be turned into full-blown series.
Amazon's kids programming includes Annebots, where a kid scientist named Anne explores the world; Sara Solves It, in which viewers help unravel mysteries; and Tumbleaf, in which Amazon invites us to "join the journeys of Fig the Fox." As for the comedy pilots, Amazon is offering Browsers ("Fresh-faced interns face the music and sing along with it"), Onion News Empire ("Onion News Network journalists will do anything to stay on top"), and Zombieland ("Four survivors are killin' zombies and searching for a home"). Amazon Prime Instant Video and LoveFilm subscribers can view the pilot episodes for free.
Amazon Studios has taken a different tack with its original content than competitors Netflix and Hulu. It first measures the popularity of a potential series before it commits to a full slate of episodes. Amazon's content arm launched in November 2010 It reviewed more than 4000 submissions before committing to produce the current batch of 14 pilots.
As for Netflix, it's offering the new supernatural series. Hemlock Grove appears to be a mashup of Twin Peaks and The Howling, and it involves the murder of a teenage girl and the ensuing investigation of a cast of eccentric suspects.
While Amazon's just getting started with original content, this is familiar territory for Netflix and other streaming services. Netflix has already produced two well-received series. Lilyhammer, released in February 2012, starred Sopranos veteran Steve Van Zandt as a mob snitch who is relocated to Norway by the federal witness protection program. (At the same time, Hulu launched an original series called Battleground, a comedy-drama centered on a fictional political campaign for a U.S. senate seat in Wisconsin.) Earlier this year, Netflix released House of Cards, a totally addictive series about political intrigue inside Washington, starring Kevin Spacey, as Frank Underwood, who makes Iago look like Captain Kangaroo.