Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) is set to dive into the pool with Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) this fall with its new original series Alpha House and Betas, but early indicators point to the launch being a big ol' dud. Not because the shows are bad, mind you. Rather, because Amazon is too busy being Amazon to properly promote and support these fledging comedies.
The two new shows won a fight-to-the-death face-off with 12 other pilots to get a full series order back in April. Understandably, this didn't get a lot of mainstream media coverage. Amazon wouldn't want to pre-emptively promote its first venture into production only to have the whole shebang fail to get traction.
Fortunately for Amazon, the two shows did do well enough to receive full series orders. All good news thus far. But that's about where the positivity ends.
A failure to communicate
When a company has a product it's about to launch in, oh, I don't know, a couple of days, you'd expect there to be a media blitz imminent. After all, getting the word out is kind of important if you want anyone to buy your stuff. When the fall 2013 TV lineup was settled into place, the ad campaigns began. Seriously, I think I saw an ad for The Michael J. Fox Show about 10,000 times on both live TV and on Verizon FiOS OnDemand service. If I pressed "Play" on an NBC show this last summer, I saw an ad (the same ad, of course) each time. Did it drive me crazy? Absolutely. But did it cement into my brain the fact that Michael J's return to the small screen was set for Sept. 26? Again, absolutely.
What I'm trying to say is advertising works. It's always worked. It always will work. So why Amazon hasn't taken out a billboard or two to advertise either one of its brand spankin' new full-run series yet is beyond confusing. When Netflix launched its first original series, House of Cards, billboards were practically everywhere, piquing interest and making highway users ponder exactly why Kevin Spacey's hands were so bloody.
Alpha House features TV big name John Goodman and has a decent plot: four Republican senators live together in a D.C.-based house; hijinks ensue. According to Gawker, there was only one photo online to tease the show on Nov. 5 -- just 10 days prior to the show's set release date -- which is kind of ironic considering it's being produced by the largest online retailer on the earth. You'd think an official website with a few photos and video clips wouldn't be too much ask.
Not another service!
By Nov. 7, the pilot was up on Amazon's Prime Instant Video service. When the series launches on Nov. 15, the first three episodes will be available for free. Then, to see the rest of the season, you'll have to sign up for a Prime Instant Video subscription.
Betas, a comedy about app developers looking for an investor, will follow the same model when it premieres on Nov. 22. It's a good ploy and a tried and true carrot dangle if I ever saw one. Still, it doesn't matter how good the show is -- people aren't going to sign up for Prime Instant Video to keep tabs on Amazon Originals. It just can't compete with Netflix in terms of ease of use, show availability and long-standing brand recognition.
People think of Amazon as a retailer, not a TV show producer, and while some companies can take on all the things, Amazon doesn't seem poised to knock this one out of the park. Or, they'll need to take on an entirely new approach to find success. The current Instant Video interface is just plain wonky, too, which isn't helping things.
At this point, Amazon is asking too much of the public and not giving enough in return.You can't make people work for your product. You need to present it on a silver platter, tied up in a pretty bow with a big sign overhead that reads, "Buy me."
Amazon's got its new series in a dusty old box in a closet in a back room with a sign hanging on the door that says, "Come in if you want, I guess. I mean, you don't have to..."
And this new venture will fail as a result.