Here's Why Yahoo & Microsoft Won't Beat Netflix at the Original Series Game

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The success of original series on streaming sites like Netflix has encouraged some of the big tech companies to get involved. From early reports, both Microsoft and Yahoo are jumping into the online series game with both feet: Microsoft has six shows in production and Yahoo has four. These shows will join the already-burgeoning group of series from Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu.

Amazon Prime started its original series run last year with Alpha House and Betas, but has expanded its offerings this year to four new adult programs (including a second season of Alpha House) and four original children's series. This expansion continues Amazon Studios' tradition of investing in people outside Hollywood, then narrowing a wide field of pilots into a few Netflix-beating hopefuls. Although they have trailed behind Netflix in reviews and awards so far, they have deep pockets, and are committed to producing new, thoughtful dramas they hope will step on the toes of Orange Is the New Black and House of Cards.

If Amazon continues to invest in indie filmmakers to create innovative projects, it's possible that they could make the next groundbreaking drama or boundary-pushing comedy. I don't have the same hopes for the newest big dogs to invest in original series — Microsoft and Yahoo.

Although Yahoo has released less information on their series, we already know that they will all be half-hour comedies. And since they're made by Yahoo, which hasn't yet revealed whether they're investing in new talent or resuscitating more old TV personalities, we can assume that they'll be boring. I highly doubt that the network that poached known transphobe Katie Couric is going to suddenly become a champion of the indie comedy scene.

Microsoft's six new programs are more varied, but they seem to favor celebrity side projects and shameless game marketing over good original content. Among the series are such attempts at self-promotion as the television adaptation of Halo produced by Steven Spielberg and a reality street soccer series with "interactive features." Although these might be entertaining for gamers, I doubt that either will focus heavily on the well-developed characters or subplots the Netflix-obsessed love from House of Cards. Nor do they seem to be the jumping-off point for television newbies like Orange Is the New Black.

Microsoft also has recruited Sarah Silverman, Seth Green, and Michael Cera to make original comedies and while I love these three comedians as much as the next millennial, I can't imagine why Microsoft is using big-name comedians as a crutch, rather than finding the newest, greatest talent from YouTube or Vine. With names as stale as these, I can predict that Microsoft will use its new series as anything other than a cash-grab. 

Viewers are going to have more options for online programming, but that doesn't mean they'll be better than the bar-raising shows we already know. For now, I'll stick with Netflix.


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