SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Yesterday, Amazon put up all 10 episodes of a highly anticipated series called "Transparent," a show about a transgender parent who comes out to her children. It's one of seven original movies and TVs shows produced by Amazon. The company does not have a history of putting out stellar programming so far. But this time it's bringing in some big name talent and money. NPR's Laura Sydell reports this is actually part of a much larger plan by Amazon that includes original video games and books.
LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: What does a tender, funny show about struggling with transgender identity...
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TRANSPARENT")
JEFFREY TAMBOR: (As Maura Pfefferman) I made a commitment here last week that I was going to come out to my kids and I didn't do it because it just wasn't time, you know?
SYDELL: What does this have to do with the company that's aiming to be the world's largest retailer? Roy Price, the head of Amazon Studios says getting arts and entertainment to its customers is in Amazon's DNA.
ROY PRICE: We sell a wide variety of products but we do have our origin in books and movies and music and stories.
SYDELL: So in 2011, the company made access to a streaming video service part of Prime. Prime was initially setup to provide free, two-day delivery for an annual fee. Price says adding exclusive content is a way to make Prime more appealing.
PRICE: It adds special value to this service, to have something completely unique and original that was developed with that customer group in mind.
SYDELL: And with the idea in mind of bringing in a lot of new customers, says WedBush Securities analyst Michael Pachter. He says it's about a lot more than getting them to watch TV.
MICHAEL PACHTER: Amazon concluded a few years ago that if you give people only free shipping, they're less likely to sign up than if you give them free shipping plus free media.
SYDELL: And Pachter says there is a connection between people who sign up for streaming video and people who end up buying lots of other stuff, from appliances to lawn furniture.
PACHTER: I mean, it makes sense to me and I'm certain that that happens. And I've asked Amazon about it, and they've confirmed that, that once someone joins, almost invariably their consumption goes up. You know, once you've paid for it, you might as well use it.
SYDELL: Pachter says this goes for Amazon's investments in other original media. It's recent purchase of the live streaming game site Twitch TV, for a billion dollars, and its investment in original games, plus its self-publishing platform all are meant to bring in customers who will spend money on other products. Amazon Studios head Roy Price says the company is also challenging the way the traditional media companies work with artists. Self-publishing has meant that authors can go directly to readers. Amazon TV allows anyone to submit a script.
PRICE: Anyone can upload a script to our website for a movie or TV pilot, and we read all of those. We have turned a couple of the TV pilots into actual pilots that we shot and put on the site.
SYDELL: Though traditional Hollywood has always had focus groups, Amazon lets audiences vote directly on which pilots will get turned into a full series. And Amazon is attracting well-known Hollywood names.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE SHIELD")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) We knock down the doors other cops don't want to. My guys accept the risk because they know I will take care of them.
SYDELL: The creator of the popular FX cop show "The Shield," Shawn Ryan, is now making a pilot for Amazon. It's based on a British black comedy called "Mad Dogs" about a group of old friends who come to spend a weekend with an old buddy who lives in Belize.
SHAWN RYAN: They reunite for what they think will be a fun, long weekend not realizing that their friend, who now lives in Belize, has gotten mixed up with some bad people. And they're about the find themselves in a hellacious Quentin Tarantino-esque situation abroad.
SYDELL: Ryan says he likes having new players like Amazon and Hollywood.
RYAN: It feels like they're willing to experiment. They're willing to take risks. They're willing to try to be different.
SYDELL: They're willing to take risks because they're trying to get leverage with other big media companies. Amazon had a contract dispute with Disney this summer. It's still locked in a contract battle with the publisher Rochette. Analysts say the company wants to be in a position where its own original, creative content draws so many people that these older media players must be on their site. If "Transparent" and other upcoming shows turn out to be winners, Amazon is also hoping to achieve another goal - more and more customers clicking and buying the packages that wind up on their doorstep. Laura Sydell, NPR News.
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