Is Amazon getting into original TV?March 6, 2012: 7:49 PM ET
Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube are pouring resources into original content. Now, Amazon may be, too.
At least that is what appeared to be the case for a fleeting few hours March 6 on LinkedIn. Joe Lewis, a new executive with the tech giant based in Los Angeles, briefly listed his title as Vice President of Original Television at Amazon (AMZN). Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment. However, Lewis' job title changed moments after Fortune's request for additional details. He is currently listed as Vice-President, Production at Amazon Studios.
The technology website GigaOm first reported last month that Amazon was looking for executives to shepherd creative projects through development. The company's Sherman Oaks, California production studio, dubbed People's Production Company, is tasked with creating original content. In the past, Amazon has dabbled in feature films as well, though it approaches them in an unconventional model based on crowd-sourcing ideas. But the hiring of Lewis this month as well as two job listings last month calling for creative executives to helm comedy and kids series, indicates Amazon wants to try its hand at TV, too.
Lewis may be the man to do that. According to his profile on the professional social network, his previous experience includes stints as Director of Production at 20th Century Fox (NWS), Manager of Development at Comedy Central, and CEO of the cloud-based TV network Bark Industries. At Comedy Central, he was an executive in charge of the production of Tosh.0, a series hosted by comedian Daniel Tosh that melds viral web videos with popular culture commentary.
Regardless of what flavor of original content Amazon ends up pursuing exactly, analysts expect to see more from the company in this domain in the future. "I think there's a logic to it," says Gartner analyst Ray Valdes. Valdes points to Google (GOOG), which is spending $100 million on new original content for YouTube. Streaming service Hulu, meanwhile, plans to spend $500 million -- some of which will likely come from investors -- on TV and movie programming this year to round out its offerings of traditional broadcast and cable programming. It is banking on shows like the political comedy Battlefield. And then there's Netflix (NFLX), which has been spending profusely on original series like Lilyhammer, a show starring Sopranos actor Steven van Zandt. The Kevin Spacey series House of Cards is due out later this year, and the the cult favorite Arrested Development is slated to be resuscitated on the streaming service early next year.
Many expect similar moves from Amazon eventually. Sucharita Mulpuru, a Forrester analyst, believes them a no-brainer. The company is already trying its hand at self-publishing, having hired book industry veteran Larry Kirshbaum as Vice President and Publisher of Amazon Publishing. His mission is similar in that field. "I think they really believe the real opportunity lies in them owning the entire customer experience," says Mulpuru. "By owning their content, they wouldn't have to fight or pay absurd amounts of money to the studios," she adds. Netflix has had a difficult relationship with Hollywood, paying millions for content but also losing out when negotiations stalled and titles were yanked from the service.
And then there are Amazon's ambitious growth plans. The company has charted an aggressive course with its Kindle tablet devices and media services, from books to movies and TV. Its Prime membership service is already a passport to the company's many services and could grow in the coming years. It isn't hard to see how beneficial compelling original programming could be to Amazon's ecosystem. After all, it won't be the first technology company to make waves creating media. "Heck, Pixar was a technology company and look what they did," says Mulpuru.