Amazon Expands Content-Creation Play with Original TV Show Project

5/2/12Follow @curtwoodward

Amazon.com’s ambitions in signing up content creators are taking another step forward. The company is now showing off the details of its new TV programming project for Amazon Studios, an entertainment division that had thus far been focused on developing movie scripts.

Any shows would be piped to viewers over Amazon’s streaming video service, which competes with companies like Hulu and Netflix. Amazon Instant Video, however, has a couple of extra wrinkles compared to those competitors: There’s a free version tied to the Amazon Prime loyalty shopping program, and (perhaps most crucially) Amazon now has a popular tablet device, the Kindle Fire.

The move into TV programming fits into Amazon’s expanding strategy of owning a piece of the value chain in digital content creation, rather than just distribution. Along with movies, Amazon has a growing digital book-publishing arm, and it’s also experimenting with creating its own video games. (Side note: Even though it’s known to be boosting its digital music team, Amazon has not yet taken a plunge into signing up recording artists.)

Amazon watchers knew the TV programming announcement was coming, since employees of the division had been (briefly) spotted on LinkedIn and the company was openly advertising for more to join the team, focusing on comedies and children’s shows.

But now, Amazon is officially asking wannabe show creators to send in their for possible development deals. The terms are similar to what Amazon Studios already offers to movie scriptwriters: a 45-day evaluation period, after which a $10,000 retainer is possible.

Amazon says it intends to pick one show a month for its development slate, which puts the project in front of test audiences to determine whether people would watch the show.

If a show does get signed up for further development by Amazon, the creator will get $55,000 and “other royalties and bonuses,” including up to 5 percent of Amazon’s net sales of licensed merchandise like toys and T-shirts. It’s also important to note that Amazon has signed on to the terms of two Hollywood unions, the Writers Guild of America and The Animation Guild.

Interestingly, I don’t see any mention in today’s Amazon release about any production deals with established Hollywood players. Warner Brothers has a “first look” deal for the option to produce any Amazon Studios movie projects.

It will take a while to see how successful the Amazon approach to developing TV and movie content might be. Even with digital shooting and editing technology getting rapidly cheaper, it still costs a good chunk of change to produce a TV show, much less an actual film.

Amazon is, however, famous for taking a long view in the way it approaches projects and markets. Through that lens, this looks like a shrewd move that could help accelerate the decline of TV as our dominant medium of mainstream entertainment.

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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