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Amazon challenges Netflix in the digital content market

Posted on April 30th, 2013
Posted on April 30th, 2013

by Coop Cooper

Amazon.com is taking a cue from Netflix and has launched over a dozen of their own TV show pilots exclusively online. They plan to utilize user ratings and comments to determine which shows they will produce full seasons of which will air on the Amazon.com website.

Paired with the ‘Amazon Prime’ service, the first episode of each of these shows is free for all users, but subsequent episodes will be available only to Amazon Prime subscribers. Like Netflix, Amazon Prime also offers many free online movies to watch, but nowhere near as many as Netflix. It does however come with free 2-day shipping on anything ordered from Amazon.com which is a huge bonus for frequent online shoppers (and frankly, the only reason I have a subscription). As an added bonus you can rent some ebooks for free instead of buying them, but Amazon intentionally makes this perk difficult and confusing to execute as they would rather you buy them.

At $79.00 a year (or an alternative $7.99 per-month plan), it may sound like an unnecessary expense but it quickly pays for itself when you order a few big items which usually have exorbitant shipping costs. You can also get a free month trial of it, but you have to remember to cancel it before they bill start billing you.

Watching free online videos on Amazon Prime is an unwieldy experience as it is difficult to navigate since it’s not really separated from the Amazon online store. The menus are a pain to browse and the selection process becomes annoying when you find something you want to watch and it turns out not to be one of their free instant videos, but a rather pricey rental.

Amazon’s flagship show is a 30-minute comedy show adapted from the hit movie “Zombieland.” For those who haven’t seen the film, “Zombieland” is about four strangers who become a family amidst the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse. While the film was brilliant and hilarious with an A-list cast (Woody Harrelson, Jessie Eisenberg, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin), the series is woefully lacking. It reminds me of the 1980’s when studios would adapt movies into TV series and the result was always horribly disappointing. The generic replacement actors could never hold a candle to the original stars.

Thus is the case here. The new cast are faded carbon copies of the originals except for one. Woody Harrelson’s replacement in the role of Tallahassee (Kirk Ward) is so miscast, his presence ruins the show. A complete opposite from Harrelson’s slim roughneck gunslinger, Ward is a chunky, goofy standup-type comedian who doesn’t quite cut it as an action hero.

The show itself has been purged of whatever cleverness the movie possessed and has gone completely slapstick, leaning heavily on the narration by Columbus and his repetitive list of zombie survival rules. The constant R-rated cursing seems juvenile and completely out of place for a show one laugh track away from becoming a clichéd sitcom. It’s like watching a child overuse a swear word they just learned over and over again. It gets old real quick.

Supposedly this show came about because the original cast became too expensive to bring back for a feature film sequel. The show itself is not cheap. “Zombieland: The Series” feels like a big-budgeted effort, even if the quality is not there. If this is the best Amazon can do, they will quickly lose the online streaming competition to Netflix.

Netflix had a huge hit with its original show “House of Cards” but that bubble could burst since its new Horror series “Hemlock Grove” has received some dreadful reviews (akin to an R-rated “Twilight” loaded with gore and sex). That must be scary for the service since each episode of “Grove” reportedly costed $3 million an episode for it’s thirteen episode, first season run. That’s more expensive than any other show I can recall so the risk must be high.

If Netflix or Amazon fail, this could set the original online series trend back a year or two. I hope it works out but both companies will have to play it shrewd to win it. An online rumor is circling that Amazon is about to raise the price on it’s Prime service. I’ll know by the end of the year if the shipping, free movies and shows are worth the current expense in addition to the extra hassle… but besides the shipping perk, I could do away with it, keep Netflix and be perfectly happy.

Zombieland” The Series” rating: 2 out of 5 stars

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