2013 was a good year for Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX). In addition to signing major content deals with companies such as Disney (NYSE:DIS) and DreamWorks, the company also made history by being the first to win an Emmy for an online series with nine nominations and three wins for "House of Cards." This proved that Netflix was on the right track with its original programming plan and set the stage for more exclusives in the future.
Looking forward, Netflix is expanding its "Netflix Originals" line significantly. The service is preparing to enter into the second season of shows like "House of Cards" and "Orange is the New Black" while expanding its slate even further. Disney is planning to expand its Marvel Cinematic Universe through four interconnected Netflix series and a "Defenders" miniseries starting in 2015. The Netflix original documentary The Square has been nominated for an Oscar, and Netflix head of content Ted Sarandos has made statements hinting that the service may move toward producing and distributing more original films online and possibly in theaters as well.
Not the only show in town
While Netflix has received the most acclaim for its original programming, it isn't the only company to try and draw in viewers with streaming content that can't be found anywhere else. Both Hulu and Amazon.com's (NASDAQ:AMZN) Amazon Prime service feature original programs as well, though none have received the acclaim that Netflix's offerings have to date. That's not to say that this can't change, however.
Amazon is moving forward with several new series and is bringing in a bit of star power to try and make its offerings more appealing. The company hopes that original shows like the political satire "Alpha House" starring John Goodman will connect with fans seeking something different than what the networks are offering. Amazon is also working on shows in other genres, such as the Silicon Valley-set comedy "Betas," three shows for children, and several more pilots that may be picked up as series down the road, including an adaptation of the 1968 cult classic Barbarella.
Exclusives that viewers want
One of the problems with creating original programming is that it isn't always possible to accurately gauge what viewers want to see. Netflix has done decently so far, though it also has a huge pile of data on its customers' viewing habits to help it make its genre choices. Amazon has had less success, with the seemingly sure thing "Zombieland" receiving enough of a negative reaction that the company declined to pick up the series after the pilot.
To reduce this risk, both Amazon and Netflix have been looking for exclusive contracts for in-demand content. Amazon recently signed a deal with CBS (NYSE:CBS) for its upcoming Halle Berry series "Extant," allowing Amazon Prime subscribers to stream new episodes of the thriller four days after they air. The company also secured exclusive streaming rights to all three seasons of Kristen Bell's "Veronica Mars" in the lead-up to the release of the feature film based on the series.
Netflix, meanwhile, has been looking increasingly toward exclusive documentary content as a way to bolster its original programming. The aforementioned The Square was only the first of several documentaries secured exclusively for the company, including a Mitt Romney-based film called Mitt that has garnered some positive reviews and potentially a Katie Couric-starring documentary about the childhood obesity epidemic called Fed Up.
Whose content is king?
Though there are a number of companies in the online streaming subscription space, Netflix and Amazon are the biggest players in the field. Having the same options as everyone else will only carry the companies so far, however, especially as the number of no-commitment streaming rental services grows. Amazon and Netflix (and to a lesser extent Hulu) will need to increasingly set themselves apart with original content to prove their worth to viewers.
So far, Netflix leads the streaming game with higher-quality content and a first-mover advantage that makes potential viewers more familiar with its original content. A few Emmy wins, an Oscar nomination, and its own chunk of Marvel Studios' cinematic universe doesn't hurt with that, either.
While Amazon will certainly make headway in the coming years, it's unlikely that it will catch up with the quality or sheer size of Netflix's original slate. Fortunately, the company is developing exclusive content deals with other providers to help make up the difference.
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John Casteele has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Amazon.com, Netflix, and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com, Netflix, and Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.