In the age of Internet streaming, leisure time that used to be reserved for, say, home improvement projects or brunch dates now involves 14-hour marathon sessions of TV shows like Breaking Bad or LOST.
Popular streaming sites like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon (or any combination of the three) have become go-to sources to catch up on movies and TV, particularly episodic dramas meant to be watched consecutively (rather than one episode at a time, which is so early 2000s).
Original online programming–content never aired on traditional television—is becoming a fast contender in the world of entertainment. Among the most-watched shows online are political sagas likes Netflix’s original House of Cards, HBO’s Veep (available to stream at HBO Go) and now, Amazon’s first original programming foray, Alpha House. Created by journalist and TCF trustee Jonathan Alter and cartoonist-screenwriter Garry Trudeau, Alpha House features John Goodman as a Republican senator from North Carolina living with three other senators as they attempt to dodge political gaffes and controversies.
After Alter took the Alpha House concept to Amazon, Trudeau warmed to the benefits of distributing digital programming online rather than on-air. “I had no interest in making YouTube videos and didn’t really understand that Amazon was getting into full-fledged productions,” Mr. Trudeau said to David Carr in The New York Times. “It soon became clear that they were willing to put significant resources into original content.”
Carr describes Amazon and Netflix as having two different business models, though both are playing in the online streaming game. Netflix, as “a pure-play entertainment company” relies mainly on licensed content with some original programming. Cable, without having a cable, says Carr. On the other hand, Amazon’s streaming content is a bonus for existing Amazon users, an add-on with a paid subscription to Amazon Prime.
One thing separating Amazon from others trying to create a sustainable online streaming model is: budgets. “Amazon Studios is spending $1 million to $2 million per episode for its half-hour originals, whereas Hulu has dwelled in the range of $300,000 per episode, according to an executive familiar with both companies. Netflix and TV networks are spending more, but not by that much,” according to Variety.
As online streaming platforms continue to expand their models and add additional original content, it will be interesting to watch the traditional power hitters in the cable world start to react. Will networks like Showtime and HBO start to move more content online to try to compete, or will the Amazon and Netflix crowd try to work with networks for increased licensing deals?
These power plays are only going to get more politicized as we move into 2014. Time to sit back and tune in.