Crowdsourcing Entertainment: has Amazon found the Magic Bullet for Content Creation?

This post examines the value creation and capture model of Amazon Studios in regards to its use of crowdsourcing and attempts to answer the question of whether crowdsourcing is the future of entertainment.

The movie creation process has been disrupted by advent of internet and data. Netflix, for instance, has been very successful at creating content using data collected from its web platforms. However, data analytics is not the only means which the modern movie industry could utilize to create content. Another approach, crowdsourcing, is being used by tech platforms that allow fans and internet users to participate, in varying degrees, in the content creation process. It is different from Netflix where data collected on users are used as inputs and the contents are still created by professional writers and production teams employed by Netflix. Crowdsourcing, on the other hand, allows the crowd to directly influence the content itself, either through submitting one’s script, editing another’s, or bid, and vote, for the opportunity to film.

Amazon Studios, founded in 2010, is Amazon’s bet on crowdsourcing TV and movie entertainment. The platform allows users to submit scripts for the crowd, along with Amazon staff, to be reviewed on. There is the option for other users to edit as well. Beyond influencing content creation in the script phase, Amazon started to allow its users to influence during production as well. Amazon orders different pilots from various sources, and then allows its audience to decide which ones will be passed through for full production.

Amazon Studios incentivizes voters and content creators to participate on its platform through the value it creates for both parties. For the voters, it’s a chance for them to participate and influence their potential entertainment experience, and putting on the screen something they may have always wanted. Furthermore, crowdsourcing will provide a great medium for consumers of niche entertainment, something with a small fan base not big enough for Hollywood attention, to have a say in creating a story with fewer fans. On the side of content creators, they are incentivized in two ways. First, they are compensated in a tiered fashion, depending on how far along the content has made through the development process, and through various royalties and bonuses. More importantly, Amazon Studios represent a window of opportunity for  low-profile script writers to get a shot at status and fame.

Amazon captures value in several ways. First, the content created on its Studios platform can only be viewed on the Amazon Video website, a platform in which those crowdsourced contents could be purchased or rented. Secondly, if the crowdsourced content turns into a full budget movie, Amazon will be able to capture value in terms of box office ticket sales. Lastly, Amazon could capture value in the licensing rights of the content and sales of the merchandises related to any of the contents created on the Studios platform. So far, Amazon Studios has had some successes. Transparent, a comedy drama, had tremendous success and became the first ever streaming video production to win the Golden Globe for Best Series. Other shows, such as Mozart in the Jungle, had received positive reviews from both critics and Amazon users.

Not all crowdsourced contents are successful though. For instance, Hand of God, a drama released in September 2015 by Amazon, received mixed reviews from critics and did not connect that well with the audience. There are many reasons, some of which are subjective, that Hand of God did not do well, but the lesson here is that crowdsourcing is not the magic bullet to entertainment content creation. First, just because a certain crowd likes a script or the first few episodes of a series does not mean that finished product will be great entertainment. Amazon should not rely solely on votes of its users. Second, in regards to the niche markets, it is possible that selection bias will put certain content into full runs even though it may not suit the taste of the general audience. Therefore, Amazon must decide whether it wants to play in the niche space, and if not, how it will decipher whether a script that was voted by a large number of users falls in this specialty market or not. Ultimately, Amazon should realize that although crowdsourcing currently differentiate it from its rivals such as Netflix and Hulu, this approach to content creation should NOT be the only tool in its arsenal for its battle in the entertainment arena, because good creative process still matters, and good scripts, quality production, and skillful editing are still the key factors that will ultimately differentiate good entertainment from bad ones.

 

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4 thoughts on “Crowdsourcing Entertainment: has Amazon found the Magic Bullet for Content Creation?

  1. Great post and great idea. What I find most interesting is that Amazon brings an entrepreneurial spirit to launching shows and movies – they create an almost minimal viable product (pilot) and have the fans judge the product. Traditionally, movie studios have executives that try to decide what the public will like. Amazon’s approach, to let the public decide on what they want to see, seems like a great innovation.

  2. Very interesting! You bring up good points about things Amazon Studios should watch out for. It seems like the Hand of God was not the success they wanted it to be, do you think Amazon could have done more to leverage the power of crowdsourcing as marketing for the show? Is this more a strategic or executional error?

    1. CX, thank you for your thoughtful questions.

      I definitely think more could be done to leverage crowdsourcing, beyond just marketing. Users who participated in the content creation process can be great ambassadors for its movies, since I would assume people who are reviewing and rating movies on Studios tend to be more extreme users, they probably have a social circle that are more into movies and TV’s than the average. Additionally, I think data analytics could be applied to this crowd to derive insights what part of a movie/TV show that is being liked/disliked by the crowd.

      As for what kind of mistake it is, I’m not really sure… Happy to hear other thoughts.

  3. It’s an interesting method that has its benefits, but I’m skeptical it will help Amazon studios in the end. Amazon desperately needs a tent-pole show (a high quality blockbuster show) that drastically moves its reputation. It’s a typical blockbuster strategy that keeps rearing its ugly head of increased probability of success. I’m not sure this crowdsourced approach will help to that end.

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