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By Angela Colley, dealnews contributor
If Amazon has its way, it won't just be the online retailer you use for everything from MP3s to small kitchen appliances; it will also be the producer of your new favorite TV show.
Earlier this year, Amazon had a pretty unique idea – produce TV pilots and let the viewers decide which ones would become the site's first original programming. Shows included Onion News Empire, a series that took a supposed "behind-the-scenes" look at the Onion News Network, Zombieland, a series based on the movie, and the kid's show Tumbleaf. Amazon streamed 14 pilots free, which proved to be a popular offer as thousands of people tuned in to review the pilots. According to Amazon, these TV pilots "comprised 8 of the 10 most streamed TV episodes on Amazon Instant Video" during that weekend.
Based on user ratings, Amazon has given the green light to five original series: three children's programs and two adult programs – Alpha House and Betas.
Alpha House, starring John Goodman, is a political comedy about four quirky U.S. senators who end up renting a house together in Washington D.C. The series was produced by Elliot Webb and Jonathan Alter and directed by Adam Bernstein. It received an average of four stars out of five from nearly 3,000 reviews. The Alpha House pilot is available free on Amazon.
Betas is a comedy about Silicon Valley startups. Directed by Michael Lehmann, the series follows four friends as they try to launch their social networking application. Betas received an average 4.3-star rating from nearly 2,000 viewer reviews. You can still catch the pilot episode on Amazon.
The remaining nine TV pilots, including Onion News Empire, Zombieland, and Tumbleleaf didn't make the cut, despite some receiving good reviews from viewers.
Amazon is the first major producer to let viewers alone decide what pilots to pick up, but the company isn't the first streaming service to offer original programming. Hulu is launching 11 new original series this year like The Awesomes, a cartoon featuring Seth Meyers, and Quick Draw, a western with a comedic spin which viewers can via laptops and desktops for free, or with a subscription to Hulu Plus for $7.99 a month to watch shows on TVs and mobile devices. Also starting at $7.99 a month, Netflix subscribers can stream TV and movies inclduing the horror series, Hemlock Grove, and a political series, House of Cards featuring Kevin Spacey; Netflix is also the exclusive provider of the fourth season of Arrested Development. Netflix also plans to add eight more original series to its lineup in 2014, according to Digital Trends.
Amazon's new shows will start airing later this year exclusively through its Prime Instant Video, which comes free with an Amazon Prime account. If you're already an Amazon Prime member, you can watch its original programming on a variety of devices including laptops, via TV apps, and streaming devices like Roku. If you're not a member, Amazon Prime costs $79 a year and includes other features like free 2-day shipping and access to the Kindle Owner's Lending Library with one free book rental a month. New members can also get a 30-day free trial of the service before committing to the full year.
So readers, what do you think about the new Amazon Studios? Did you watch any of these pilots? Were any good enough to warrant signing up for Amazon Prime? Will you watch any of the five that got picked up?