Amazon Taps $1 Billion Focus Group by Streaming Shows on Twitch

  • Original comedy pilots to run on gaming site for 24 hours
  • Viewer feedback sought as content race with Netflix heats up Inc. has discovered a new use for Twitch Interactive Inc., which it purchased two years ago for about $1 billion. Seeking feedback from Twitch’s highly engaged audience of 10 million daily users, Amazon streamed two original TV-show pilots produced by its own studios on the gaming website.

The first-time move highlights how Twitch can potentially be used to advantage against video-streaming rival Netflix Inc., giving Amazon a vast audience on which to test new shows before committing to producing entire seasons. Both Amazon and Netflix produce original programs to attract customers with exclusive content.

Twitch is known as the ESPN of video games because it streams competitions featuring professional gamers duking it out on popular titles such as League of Legends. The site lets viewers chat alongside the action, reacting with emojis and posing questions to their favorite streamers.

Last year, Twitch began expanding its focus beyond gaming by adding cooking shows and art classes from some of its 2 million-plus streamers. Wednesday was the first time Twitch streamed Amazon original shows: comedy pilots "The Tick," based on the dark-humored comic-book superhero spoof, and "Jean-Claude Van Johnson," which stars martial-arts film star Jean-Claude Van Damme playing the world’s most dangerous undercover private contractor.

Alternating Shows

Seattle-based Amazon will alternate the streaming of the two shows continuously for 24 hours. Before the streaming began, Twitch showed a commercial from Geico and flashed a screen that said, "Help choose the next Amazon original series," with a link to a survey where those watching could give feedback. Comments from viewers ran in a chat room next to the first showing of "The Tick," which drew more than 3,500 viewers initially.

"This feels like a big cinema with all the people whispering to each other and not watching the actual show," one user wrote. "It’s so cheesy. I love it," wrote another viewer by the screen name of Frankenfunk. Others simply posted emojis of puppy faces and other images.

Both pilots already made their streaming debuts on Amazon on Aug. 19 and are running neck-and-neck with 4.5 stars each based on thousands of reviews. Amazon has conducted similar pilot tests with its Prime members for other originals, including the award-winning show "Transparent."

Generating Buzz

Streaming the pilots on Twitch exposes them to a broader audience to generate more buzz and give Amazon greater confidence in the feedback, said Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities Inc. in Los Angeles who also follows Netflix Inc.

"Moving it to Twitch means a lot more people will see it," Pachter said. "This is a competitive advantage over Netflix in terms of managing the cost of originals."

Amazon is using video to help entice online shoppers to pay $99 a year for Amazon Prime memberships, which include delivery discounts, video and music streaming and online photo storage. Customers who watch Amazon videos while trying free trial memberships are more likely to convert to paying members, and those subscribers who watch Amazon videos are more likely to renew their memberships, according to Amazon.

On a conference call last month, Amazon Chief Financial Officer Brian Olsavsky said the company would double its spending on video content in the second half of the year compared with the same period a year earlier, and planned to almost triple the number of original programs.

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