Amazon's Pilot Season Takes Off: Can It Jet Past Netflix?

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Before you go close icon"Really" is one of Amazon's new series.
Each year, (AMZN) produces a new slate of series pilots for customers of its Prime Instant Video service. Amazon kicked off its third pilot season on Aug. 28. Customers seem to like the Prime service even more than Hulu or Apple (AAPL) iTunes, and new shows may widen the lead.

According to research from Qwilt, Amazon Instant Video was the third-most-popular streaming service as of March, passing both Hulu (fourth) and iTunes (fifth). Only Netflix (NFLX) and YouTube accounted for more video traffic.To put a finer point on it, Netflix led all streaming services with 57.5 percent of "downstream" traffic volume. Think of it like ratings: The higher the percentage, the greater the chances of a viewer using bandwidth to tune into a show on that network. Amazon saw its share of traffic zoom five-fold, from 0.6 percent in March 2013 to 3.0 percent a year later.

While it's not clear how much credit original programming deserves for the gains, some newer shows have earned good reviews. For example, "Alpha House," a graduate of the first Amazon pilot season, gets 7.4 out of 10 stars on IMDb from 1,454 users.

Skeptics will rightly note that Netflix's top original series enjoy wider acclaim. Take "House of Cards," an Emmy winner that scores 9.1 out of 10 on IMDb from 145,662 users. Amazon shows may be finding favor with those watching, but Netflix originals remain more popular.

Yet I'm also not sure it matters. Qwilt's tracking finds that Netflix accounted for 19 times more downstream traffic than Amazon -- yet that's down from a staggering 87.5 times margin the year prior. The gap also closed before the e-tailer inked a landmark deal with Time Warner (TWX) to bring HBO programming to its platform. Here's a closer look at the five new programs Amazon is betting will narrow the chasm even further:

1. "Red Oaks"

Synopsis: "20-year-old David Myers takes a job as an assistant tennis pro at the predominantly Jewish Red Oaks country club in New Jersey and tries to figure out what kind of life he wants to lead." (Source: IMDb.)

Written by: Gregory Jacobs and Joe Gangemi

Starring: Craig Roberts, Jennifer Grey, Ennis Esmer

Current ratings: 4.5 out of 5 from 1,727 ratings on Amazon, 7.6 out of 10 from 131 users on IMDb

2. "The Cosmopolitans"

Synopsis: "A dramatic comedy about a group of young American expats in Paris searching for love and friendship and an ocean of distance from their past." (Source: IMDb.)

Created by: Whit Stillman

Starring: Chloe Sevigny, Adam Brody

Current ratings: 3.5 out of 5 from 1,537 ratings on Amazon, 6.1 out of 10 from 337 users on IMDb

3. "Hand of God"

Synopsis: "A morally corrupt judge suffers a breakdown and believes that God is speaking directly to him, compelling him onto a path of vigilante justice." (Source: IMDb.)

Created by: Marc Forster and Ben Watkins

Starring: Ron Perlman, Dana Delany, Andre Royo

Current ratings: 4.5 out of 5 from 3,144 ratings on Amazon, 9.1 out of 10 from 402 users on IMDb

4. "Really"

Synopsis: "A comedy that revolves around an opinionated group of thirty-something friends in Chicago." (Source: IMDb.)

Created by: Jay Chandrasekhar

Starring: Jay Chandrasekhar, Sarah Chalke

Current ratings: 4 out of 5 from 2,093 ratings on Amazon, 6.2 out of 10 from 401 users on IMDb

5. "Hysteria"

Synopsis: "A doctor travels to her hometown of Houston to investigate an epidemic among high school girls that may be spreading through technology." (Source: IMDb.)

Written by: Shaun Cassidy

Starring: Mena Suvari, James McDaniel, Josh Stewart

Current ratings: 4 out of 5 from 1,427 ratings on Amazon / 6.3 out of 10 from 352 users on IMDb

Now it's your turn to weigh in. Are you watching any of the shows in the Amazon pilot season? What, if anything, stands out vs. what's available on Netflix, YouTube, Hulu and iTunes? Leave your thoughts below.

Motley Fool contributor Tim Beyers owns shares of Apple, Netflix and Time Warner. Find him on Twitter as @milehighfool. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Apple,, and Netflix. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Check out our free report on the Apple Watch to learn where the real money is to be made for early investors.
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