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Amazon chases Netflix and HBO with five new pilots

Amazon has just released another slate of show pilots, and Amazone viewers now have the chance to help decide which shows will make it to the company's video streaming service.

The most recent crop, with three comedies and two dramas, marks the third time Amazon's reached out to its viewers for input about their next season of shows. All five pilots are now available for free on Amazon's Instant Video apps — along with a survey for users to leave feedback about each show.

It's a tactic Amazon used to good effect in the past. The somewhat-successful political comedy "Alpha House" was greenlit during the first round of public pilots. The second wave of shows selected by voters hasn't been released yet, but there's already a lot of buzz around "Transparent," a comedy starring Jeffrey Tambor as a transgender parent.

This latest batch of pilots has been thoroughly picked over by several outlets. And while the critics are all over the place on some shows, no one seems to have an unkind word for the ‘80s-saturated comedy "Red Oaks" or much enthusiasm for the medical thriller "Hysteria."

But what's potentially more interesting than the strengths and weaknesses of each individual pilot is what the collective slate can tell us about Amazon's digital TV strategy.

First, there's the star power:  from renowned directors and producers like Steven Soderburgh and Whit Stillman to proven TV actors like Ron Perlman and Sarah Chalke, it's clear Amazon's ramped up the number of big names attached to these projects. 

Second, there's the speed at which Amazon's churning out pilots. HitFix notes this third batch has been released before the second set of shows have even started their run — and there's already casting talk for a fourth wave: "At this rate, they may be ordering some shows before a word's even been written, and traveling back in time to cancel others before the creator has even thought of the idea."

Lastly, NPR says all of these pilots seem more like passion projects than traditional safe bets: "It's tough to imagine any of these pilots earning a spot on HBO, Showtime, [or] Netflix. ... These feel more like well-crafted shots in the dark — interesting ideas that a platform looking to make a name might bankroll, in hopes one of them becomes a surprise, attention-getting hit."

All told, a writer for Slate says this latest round of pilots is part of Amazon's attempt to become a serious contender in the video streaming field, by chasing giants like Netflix and HBO with its own spin on original content: "What started as a kind of cutesy gambit — watch all the shows and vote on which you like best! Pilot season in the hands of the people! — has morphed into a more polished bid for seriousness."

 

In addition to the grown-up stuff, Amazon has also ordered a handful of children's show pilots. Those pilots are expected to debut in early 2015.

This video includes images from Getty Images.

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