Amazon and Netflix are both finding success at producing their original content, but the way they go about it is totally different.
For one, Amazon does pilot episodes. Netflix is strongly against them.
A pilot is a single episode meant to test the viability of a series, and has been a staple in network TV for years. Amazon is taking that approach forward into the digital world.
Speaking at the Upfront Summit in Los Angeles, Amazon’s SVP of Business Development, Jeff Blackburn, argued his company’s approach gives them insight into what may be a viral hit.
The company has now released seven seasons of pilot episodes and developed award-winning shows like “Transparent” and “Mozart in the Jungle” from them. By posting each pilot for Prime customers to review, Amazon’s piloting model has been described as both democratic and inventive. As one critic put it, Amazon embodies the “indie” model of filmmaking while Netflix is the big picture studio.
“We put them up in front of prime customers and we let them watch and comment,” Blackburn said. “We get incredible data. We can look at that and make better decisions.”
Not only does Amazon produce pilots, but it sources them from everywhere. Its Amazon Studios division has an open-door submission policy, meaning anyone can submit a script for a series, not just those with Hollywood connections.
Take one of its hit children’s shows, “Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street.” The screenwriter, David Anaxagoras, was living in his parents’ house and working as a preschool teacher when he submitted the script to Amazon. Now he’s a creator, writer, and co-executive producer of a show and has his own IMDB page.
That’s compared to Netflix, which doesn’t believe in the pilot model at all and will either buy or commission a series from start to finish.
It’s a model that Netflix fiercely defends. In September, the streaming competitor released its own study arguing that the pilot is ineffective. In its research, viewers get hooked several episodes in and not just after the first.
“Given the precious nature of primetime slots on traditional TV, a series pilot is arguably the most important point in the life of the show,” Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos is quoted as saying in the release. “However, in our research of more than 20 shows across 16 markets, we found that no one was ever hooked on the pilot. This gives us confidence that giving our members all episodes at once is more aligned with how fans are made.”
The quote from Sarandos was a not-so-subtle jab at Amazon, but Amazon seems pleased so far with its original content strategy.
“I’m not saying Netflix strategy’s is wrong, it’s just different. And we like our way,” Blackburn added.
Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through hispersonal investment company Bezos Expeditions.
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