Amazon may be playing catch-up with Netflix on the original content front, but it's taking a different approach to releasing its homegrown TV series.
Amazon Studios -- the entertainment production arm of the e-commerce giant -- said Monday it will release the first three episodes of TV series "Alpha House" on November 15 and the same for "Betas" a week later. To see the remaining eight episodes, however, customers must sign up for an Amazon Prime subscription for $79 a year, which gives them access to Prime Instant Video and free, two-day shipping on many Amazon purchases, among other perks.
After the release of the first three episodes in one bingeable bunch, Amazon plans to roll out the remaining eight weekly -- as is traditionally done for TV shows.
The pilot episodes of both comedies have been available for Prime Instant Video customers to stream since the spring. "Alpha House" follows four Republican senators who rent a house together in DC, while "Betas" covers the start-up scene in Silicon Valley.
Amazon Prime Instant Video differs from Netflix, its chief online competitor, in a few ways.
Unlike Amazon, Netflix requires a subscription to see any of its original shows. (Both services offer a one-month free trial.) And Netflix puts all episodes of a season up at once. Netflix executives have long maintained that they'll continue the binge-friendly practice for the foreseeable future because it holds true to their ethos that customers should have the freedom to choose how and when they watch the shows. Some who focus on Netflix's financials are skeptical of the practice, since it means after an initial surge of chatter about each program, the buzz abates quickly.
Programs that roll out weekly, as traditional TV does, sustain water-cooler conversation over multiple months.
Though there was little doubt before, Amazon's move makes it clear that its original series are meant to increase the number of Prime subscribers, and it's not taking chances simply with people who may sign up for a free test period but then drop the service after an intense video binge.
Netflix jumped to a quick lead in developing original television content that has all the markers of a top-flight cable network, with the exception of its distribution online. Netflix's "House of Cards," for example, was a breakout sensation, generating word-of-mouth buzz and three primetime Emmys.
In addition to "Alpha House" and "Betas," Amazon Studios has ordered three other original series in its first wave, after a first round of comedy and kids pilots in April. Amazon has since ordered up five more original pilots for kids and gave the thumbs-up to produce three more half-hour pilots aimed at adults earlier this month.
Last week, it gave the green light to produce two hour-long drama pilots. This puts Amazon on track to produce series that are similar to those Netflix has used to kick-start its own original-series push.