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Burning Question: Will Amazon's 'Alpha House' Have the Impact of 'House of Cards'?

Leslie Gornstein
Yahoo TV
November 16, 2013

"House of Cards" and "Alpha House"
"House of Cards" and "Alpha House"

Q: Does Amazon and its new slate of shows have a chance of breaking Netflix's dominance of streaming originals?

A: To anybody who's thinking about this, I've got one piece of advice for you. Whoa. Whoa, whoa, whoa, there, Sparky. As I type this column, Netflix can boast 26 current and past series and specials, with stars such as Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, Jason Bateman, Kevin Spacey's southern accent, Michael Cera, Marc Maron, Aziz Ansari, and Crazy Eyes.

Netflix also has an impressive slate in its future, including second seasons of "Orange Is the New Black," "House of Cards," and "Hemlock Grove." The company recently announced a deal with Marvel that will bring us the Defenders — stories of superheroes such as Jessica Jones and Daredevil. And there's even an "Untitled Psychological Thriller" in Netflix's upcoming slate. Oooh! Goosebumps!

As for Amazon? It has offered standalone TV movies in the past. But it just debuted its first original series this week. "Alpha House," inspired by the real-life bunking situation experienced by Sen. Chuck Schumer and other D.C. power players, boasts John Goodman and (in cameo) Bill Murray. There are upcoming series, too: "Betas" will offer up the likes of Moby and Ed Begley Jr.

[Related: "Alpha House" Brings Haley Joel Osment Back Into Focus]

Get the idea? Of course there's a chance that Amazon will eclipse Netflix sometime in the future. Their biggest shows both seem to be getting love, at least, from critics: Metacritic has Netflix's Emmy-winning flagship scripted series, "House of Cards" (coincidentally also set in D.C.), with a 76 (out of 100) rating versus a perfectly respectable 71 for "Alpha House."

But right now, nobody's thinking that way, especially when you consider that Amazon Prime has an estimated 10 million to 12 million subscribers versus Netflix's reported 30 million streaming customers. (Netflix's total customer base is closer to 40 million.)

Remember: Video entertainment is at the core of Netflix's business. And as of now, Amazon still sees itself as more of a shopping site, with the streaming video thrown in as a lagniappe for Prime subscribers. That's a very different business model, and it may not even be fair to compare the two companies as entertainment entities, at least, not yet.

[Related: Big Heroes, Small Screen Daredevil and Pals Coming to Netflix]

"Though Amazon itself is a behemoth, its Instant Video service is still a featherweight," the Motley Fool noted this week.

And a study by Sandvine, which runs data networks worldwide, found that Amazon accounts for just just 1.61 percent of North American online traffic; Netflix, meanwhile, dominates in the same space, claiming 31 percent of the total volume during the peak part of the day.

So. Let's ask this question again. Does Amazon have a chance of breaking Netflix's dominance of streaming originals? Maybe the real question should be, "Does Amazon even want to?"

"The short answer is no," says Todd Spangler, the New York digital editor for Variety. "Netflix has the flywheel spinning. Their goal is to be introducing something original at least once a month.

"For Netflix, this kind of business is everything. But for Amazon, it's more about getting people into their Prime program. It's just a nice thing to have."

Watch the official "Alpha House" trailer:

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Leslie Gornstein is an entertainment writer and the host of the weekly Hollywood gossip podcast The Fame Fatale.