Amazon.com (NASDAQ: AMZN ) wants to be a big dog in streaming video so it's getting ready to sic Alpha House on its most loyal customers.
The first three episodes of the political comedy will be available on Friday, and it will be freely available to all Amazon Prime members who pay $79 a year for free two-day shipping, monthly Kindle e-book rentals, and unlimited access to Amazon's growing Prime Instant Video library. The pilot's been available for months. The leading online retailer posted several pilots on its platform, leaving it up to its customers to vote for the shows that it would bankroll for complete seasons. Alpha House is the first of the five selected shows to air.
Is this the next House of Cards? Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX ) was able to milk plenty out of the critically acclaimed show that made its debut earlier this year. Both shows do center around ruthless politicians. Netflix had David Fincher directing Kevin Spacey. Amazon has John Goodman starring in the series that was the handiwork of Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau.
Amazon will be going about distribution differently from Netflix. In a shot at Netflix's strategy to make an entire season available on the first day, Amazon's putting out just the first three episodes on Friday. The rest will follow on a weekly basis. This may seem like a bold yet risky gamble on Amazon's part, but it does have its reasons.
"Releasing all episodes at once delays launch and doesn't allow customers to binge view any sooner," Amazon Studios head Roy Price explained to Entertainment Weekly. "Also, it makes it hard to talk about a show with your friends, because you never know how many episodes they've watched -- and that's part of the fun of a TV show."
The first point does make sense in Amazon's case, since the creators behind the five shows have been naturally scrambling to complete full seasons. Amazon will argue that anecdotal evidence on social-media sites shows that binge-released shows spike early in attention, but what if Netflix has spoiled consumers too much?
Given its smaller viewer base, it makes sense for Amazon to try to string this along through several weeks -- justifying the investment -- and hoping that it gradually begins generating some buzz. However, it's also a gamble as it reaches out to viewers that have been spoiled by Netflix's approach of unleashing an entire season on the first day. The last thing Amazon wants to do after making the investments in original programming is to be seen as an old-school player in video.
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