How Amazon Chooses to Fund a Streaming TV Series

A group of 14 “pilot” episodes had been posted on the company’s website a month earlier, where they were viewed by more than one million people. After monitoring viewing patterns and comments on the site, Amazon produced about 20 pages of data detailing, among other things, how much a pilot was viewed, how many users gave it a 5-star rating and how many shared it with friends.

Those findings helped the executives pick the first five pilots—winnowed down from an original pool of thousands of show ideas—that would be turned into series. The first will debut this month: “Alpha House,” a political comedy about four politicians who live together, written by Doonesbury comic strip creator Garry Trudeau.

With shows like Orange is the New Black and House of Cards, Netflix has proven that it is possible to create TV shows on the web that can become pop culture phenomena and win Emmy awards. Amazon wants to prove that it can do so as well, so it put up a bunch of pilots on its video streaming site and looked at data and user comments to figure out which shows to pick up. Put the money into the shows where the demand is, basically, but not only where the demand is, but in the demographics with the money to pay for it:

Some TV writers are wary of letting data and consumer feedback play too big a role in the creative process. Rhett Reese, one of the writers of “Zombieland,” a show Amazon decided not to turn into a series, says most of the customer feedback displayed publicly on Amazon’s site was positive but “there was a vocal minority of haters” who had an impact. “The Internet can be a poisonous place,” he says. “Art shouldn’t be crowdsourced.” Even so, he says Amazon told him they passed on his show—a TV remake of a successful movie—partly because the young audience it appealed to was unlikely to pay for the Amazon Prime offering.

I’m actually surprised that Zombieland didn’t get a series pickup considering the monster hit The Walking Dead is.



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