Internet giant Amazon is playing catch-up for a change. Following in the footsteps of Netflix and YouTube, the online retailer – credited with putting the likes of Blockbuster and HMV in the red – announced this weekend the release of 14 new pilots, exclusive to its pay subscription services LoveFilm (in the UK) and Amazon Prime (in the US).
The raft of new content will be put to a public vote, with viewers urged to provide feedback on the shows they’d most like to see commissioned to full series. Eight adult comedies and six children’s animated series make up Amazon’s venture into television production, with a number of big names already attached…
Among the talent signed up are Argo actor John Goodman who leads the cast of Alpha House, Arrested Development's Jeffrey Tambor who stars as a news anchor in new comedy Onion News Empire and Big Bang Theory actors Kevin Sussman and John Ross Bowie who are behind intergalactic animated comedy Dark Minions.
The 14 new shows, created by independent production companies and produced by Amazon Studios are available to review on Lovefilm in the UK and Germany, and via Amazon.com in the US – with Lovefilm’s chief marketing officer, Simon Morris, stating, “the data will decide which of these shows gets made into a series. It could be all of them.”
But it was director of Amazon Studios, Roy Price, who picked up on the changing face of television viewing, saying “I think the distinction between a regular TV show and an online TV show will soon fade away.”
Now, while that opinion isn’t exactly groundbreaking, it raises the familiar question of whether the enjoyment of our favourite television shows will be compromised by the immediacy of the likes of Netflix and Amazon?
Take Netflix's first original series House of Cards, for example. Starring Kevin Spacey, it was generally regarded as an early success story. Well received by critics, it already has a second series in production – but it will never be capable of achieving what I have come to fondly term “the Broadchurch buzz”.
Because for the past eight weeks, Monday nights have been reserved for the nation's weekly dose of David Tennant and Olivia Colman’s bickering double-act as they scramble to solve the murder of 11-year-old Danny Latimer. And while that hour-long slot has had its ups and downs (it all got a bit saggy in the middle, didn’t it?), I’ve found genuine enjoyment in the Tuesday morning discussions in our office of who’s just shot to the top of our list of suspects.
And I know that attitude isn’t reserved for TV journalists crowded around the water cooler. I’ve discussed Danny’s assailant over cups of coffee with friends, on the phone with my parents and on that godfather of instant-media platforms – Twitter.
No doubt the micro social network will be on form tonight as Chris Chibnall’s eight-part drama reaches its conclusion (9pm, ITV), but whether the climax is satisfactory or not, the fact remains that this series would never have had the same effect on me if it had been dropped in one go on an online streaming service.
Rather than engaging in fierce discussions about Nige Carter’s suspicious crossbow and Tom Miller's mysterious aggression for his laptop, we’d have ploughed through the eight instalments, spending little to no time allowing our imaginations to explore the weekly clues and red herrings sent our way.
So as we gear up for tonight’s Broadchurch finale, the news from Amazon (and Netflix, and YouTube…) has me fearing for the future of television as we know it – the loss of that shared experience of watching a programme at the same time as everyone else. I love the thrill of cliffhangers and hate to think they’ll be replaced by TV hangovers – the result of an eight-hour binge followed by an inability to frantically discuss the outcome with your closest friends in case you spoil it for them.
While there’s an argument for watching the TV you want when you want it, I can’t help but wonder whether the likes of Broadchurch should always belong to the schedules.