Amazon's Price Talks Digital Creativity to Television Academy

In a wide ranging conversation at the Television Academy of Arts and Sciences Thursday in North Hollywood, Calif., the director of Amazon Studios Roy Price and the creative talent from two upcoming original series talked about their approach to creating new programming for Amazon's streaming video service.

During the conversation, Price highlighted a number of innovative things the company has done--including their online system for script submission and letting online audiences vote on what shows should go to pilot—-to encourage the creation of "game changing," "rule breaking shows."

Yet he also noted that only 2 of the 25 pilots they've commissioned have come through the online submission process and he highlighted the importance of finding "passionate creators" over simply using data to pick the next shows.

"Our original content is meant to enhance the Amazon Prime Instant Video experience," he explained when asked about their grand vision of original content.

When they decided to get involved with original content, he felt they had an important creative resource in the millions of passionate film and TV fans who use their services.

"We decided that we should bring [the] customer into the process and put stuff in front of them to get feedback and let that be a guide to picking and understanding what shows are working," he explained.

He stressed however, that there were two ways to work with them. "One is the website, where you can upload scripts and the other is more traditional," where Amazon's creative staff are approached by creators, studios and other more traditional players, he explains.

"The open system we have is not meant to be instead of the traditional system but in addition to."

Either way, "it [the script] gets to the same desk," he added.

Price noted that "we are the studio for Betas and Alphas House but we did a pilot last season with Sony, and I'm sure we will do more work with the studios. We don't have a rule that we should produce it or a third party should do it…. We just want great shows for our Prime customers."

This mix of new and traditional approaches also finds its way into their marketing of their two new comedy series, Alpha House and Betas, which were previewed during the event.

Price said they were kind of in the middle in terms of launching new shows between the traditional broadcast launch and binge watching. Amazon is making the first three episodes of both shows available at launch-—November 15 for Alpha House and November 22 for Betas. But after that a new episode is released each week.

"We felt that if we released them all at once there is a concern that it would be hard to talk about with other views," Price argued, which takes away one of the pleasures of TV, which is talking about the show.

Generally the creative talent involved in the two comedies praised Amazon for encouraging them to break rules and break new ground. "We regularly get a note that we don't have to make it like regular TV," said Betas executive producer Michael Lehmann.

But Price and various producers also stressed the importance of traditional storytelling and characters.

Some of the producers also admitted they had to be convinced that they would be able to do high quality work for an online video effort.

Alpha House creator and executive producer, Garry Trudeau, said "I had several reservations. I had not seen great TV produced online" and didn't know how they would be able to achieve high quality results with "the resources you see on YouTube."

Once Trudeau was convinced that Amazon wanted to create "HBO quality TV out of the gate," he was then concerned about the role that online audiences would play in providing feedback. "We were concerned that the show would be targeted and [the feedback] would be skewed by people who have an agenda," he said. But the "sheer numbers" of people involved in providing feedback meant that was not a problem.