By RYAN NAKASHIMA
SANTA MONICA, Calif. (AP) â¿¿ There used to be just one way for getting shows on TV. Networks would spend tens of millions of dollars ordering scripts and shooting pilots and then show the fruits of their labor to focus groups. A small group of executives would cherry-pick a few promising shows to put on TV, hoping they'd be a hit with bigger audiences.
The process was unscientific, expensive, and often didn't work. It's still how most of the industry operates today.
Online retailing giant Amazon.com Inc. aims to put a twist on the business with its own foray into original TV show production. Starting soon, it will debut 14 of its own TV show pilots on its website, allowing anyone from the U.S., U.K. and Germany watch them for free. The company will ask for viewer input, and hopes the comments and critiques will help decide which shows live or die.
"Why follow the guru method when you don't have to anymore?" says Roy Price, director of Amazon Studios. "The audience is out there and the audience is interested. We might as well make them a partner in the process."
The completed series will be available for no extra charge to subscribers of Amazon Prime, its $79-a-year rewards program. Prime, which launched in 2005 as a way to entice U.S. customers with free two-day shipping, has since expanded internationally and allows members to borrow e-books as well as watch movies and TV shows on computers, mobile devices and Internet-connected TVs.
By getting into original TV shows, Amazon is riding a wave of Internet-fueled people power that is transforming the entertainment industry. Online buzz can make or break movies these days. And crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter help generate fans and startup capital before would-be producers start filming.
Debuting shows online also helps avoid problems caused with the age-old TV model, where everything from a weak lead-in show to the Major League Baseball playoffs can draw viewers away unexpectedly.