Amazon Prime started out as an idealistic Amazon dream. While it’s main goal was to defang Netflix and claw back some of that streaming entertainment marketshare, its tactics were laudable. Amazon Prime was to gain major eyeballs by letting Hollywood outsiders produce original content for Amazon’s streaming channels. Who will be the box office? Who will provide the Nielsen ratings for this experiment? Simple-Amazon’s own massive base of customers. In short, Amazon let loose some edgy and exhilarating outsider entertainment and let its massive base act as a focus group. This was supposed to be the template for coming up with compelling content that will answer the Netflix threat of pumped Hollywood-produced fare. Well, it looks like Amazon’s recent moves indicate that this earlier populist idealism has given way to grander designs. Armed with its loads of cash, Amazon is going Hollywood. That’s right-instead of using unproven outsiders to create entertainment fare, Amazon has swung all the way to the other extreme and is now using proven Hollywood talent to produce materials for its streaming network. Alpha House was created by Pulitzer Prize winner Garry Trudeau and will feature Bill Murray and John Goodman. This is a massive turn and has many Hollywood insiders shaking in their boots. This can shift the center of movie and TV show making’s center of gravity from Hollywood to Internet companies.
While Amazon’s move to big budget self-produced shows might seem new to many people, this model isn’t exactly new. There were previous companies that tried to do parts of what Amazon aims to deliver. Remember Digital Entertainment Network? How about the online only series The Spot? Or the IceBox cartoon channel? These were earlier attempts at Internet-based original programming. Who knew ecommerce giant Amazon will be the one to truly develop on the promise? To be sure, lots of things had to happen before Amazon could even dream of doing this. First and foremost, it had to have money. And thanks to its position as the foremost ecommerce player on the planet, it has gobs of cash. It has to have the pipes. With Amazon Web Services, Amazon can stream content as easily as it can facilitate data crunching. It also has to have vision. The competitive heat from Neflix provides lots of vision. All told, Amazon’s first forays into Hollywood-fueled online entertainment might be the first salvo into a long protracted war. Hollywood’s future lies in the balance.