Amazon.com is heading to Hollywood. In addition to dropping a billion on the gaming platform Twitch, the website released five pilots for TV shows in August, two hourlong thrillers and three half-hour comedies. It’s actually the third season of pilots—don’t worry, you haven’t missed anything good—for Amazon Studios, which feeds original content to Amazon’s Instant Video program, the streaming service customers get along with a year’s free shipping when they buy into Prime for $99. Customers also get to wield the power of the producer on amazonoriginals.com, delivering a verdict on which ones should be made into a full season and, potentially, become the next House of Cards or Orange Is the New Black.
Amazon’s no Netflix, but it’s trying. This season’s pilots are made by well-known directors, such as Whit Stillman and Marc Forster, and feature even higher-profile actors, including Chloë Sevigny and Mena Suvari. It’s fun to produce stuff, as any rich kid who moves to Hollywood will tell you, but that’s probably not the motivation for Amazon to get into TV. More likely, this is an effort to keep Prime subscriptions attractive. Prime customers spend twice as much on Amazon—$538 per year on average, according to a June survey by RBC Capital Markets—than casual users, so they’ve become the website’s version of VIPs. When they’re not watching things, they’re ordering kitchen gadgets.