Networks Intent on Making America Rate Again

We have a story in the new issue about networks increasingly relying on crowdsourcing to not only dictate which shows get made (Amazon has of course had customers weigh in on its pilots for years), but what shape the shows take. NBC is shooting for early summer for a platform that will allow users to decide which musicians make the cut on competition series The Stream. Anyone will be able to upload their video to The Stream’s website, at which point the public has a look and decides to either pass it on or pass on it.

Paul Telegdy, NBC entertainment president, alternative and reality group, acknowledges that the Stream model hews closer to how music stars are minted today. The likes of Justin Bieber, Adele and many others became stars through social media, including YouTube.

The process means anyone can have their singing skills judged, without having to make what might be a lengthy trek to a big city for a tryout. “Technology is going to flush out exciting talents from all corner of the country,” says Telegdy, “and globally.”

NBC has been experimenting with the user-generated talent search with summer hit America’s Got Talent. Last season, over 14,000 potential contestants auditioned for the show via the YouNow platform.

It’s a similar idea, though a different process, over at Amazon, where the cornerstone of the studio’s development strategy is letting Amazon customers vote on pilots. The latest crop of comedy pilots, The Tick and Jean-Claude Van Johnson, were also released on streaming platform Twitch, which Amazon acquired two years ago for close to a billion dollars.

Roy Price, head of Amazon Studios, acknowledged that the public vetting is part of the process, not the whole thing. The studio may, for instance, bypass the surveys and go straight to series with a show it thinks is a slam dunk. “We won’t always do things one particular way,” he says. “As a company, we’re open to experimentation and trying lots of different things.”

While Amazon doesn’t share viewer numbers, Prime Video, which debuted Good Girls Revolt and children’s series Bookaboo Oct. 28, appears to have a pretty robust batting average in terms of shows breaking out. Transparent star Jeffrey Tambor got the Emmy for best lead actor in a comedy last month, while Jill Soloway got best director. Amazon has greenlit season four of well reviewed Bosch, while critics can’t wait for a new season of comedy Catastrophe.

David E. Kelly and Woody Allen debuted series in recent weeks (Goliath for Kelly and Crisis in Six Scenes for Allen).

Yet Amazon has had its share of misfires. Crime drama Mad Dogs was one season and done. Critics love Woody Allen, but largely did not seem to love Six Scenes.

Price says Amazon’s crowdsourcing is key for sussing out quirky, quality originals. The logic is simple: If the pilot resonates with the public, there’s a fair chance the series will as well. “We’re focused on making shows that our customers want to lean forward and watch, and our pilot process helps us do just that,” he says. “It allows us to glean findings–what do critics think? What do our customers think? And test risky ideas that we can use to make smart decisions.”

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, the L.A. Times and New York magazine.