Amazon to Develop Online Talk Show

Authors, actors and musicians frequently hit the talk show circuit when they’re promoting their latest endeavor, so why not put the program inside the store? That’s the thinking behind a 12-part video talk show series in development by Amazon.com, which the retailer will stream live on its home page every Thursday starting June 1.

“Amazon has always tried to look at innovative ways to help our customers discover new music, new artists, and this is a way to help them do that,” said Andrew Herdener, a spokesperson for Amazon.

The 30-minute program, “Amazon Fishbowl with Bill Maher,” will be hosted by the comedian, and guests will include various artists and entertainers. The show’s sponsor, UPS, will receive a Publishers Clearing House-style segment in each program, in which customers will be surprised by a celebrity who shows up along with their UPS delivery. The companies did a similar “Special Deliveries” promotion last summer for Amazon’s 10th anniversary, featuring stars like Harrison Ford, Michael J. Fox, Nick Lachey and Jeff Bridges.

Besides serving as a vehicle for the UPS sponsorship, Fishbowl will showcase the talent behind books, music and videos, sales of which still make up the lion’s share of Amazon’s revenues. On the page beside the video window, Amazon will place products related to the show’s guests.

“We want to make it very easy for customers who see the Stephen King interview to go ahead and click and buy his new book, or the new Rob Thomas CD, or whatever it is,” said Jani Strand, an Amazon spokesperson.

As a live streaming program, Fishbowl will go head-to-head with network and cable TV, airing at the same time as the popular “fake news” program, “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” (Stewart’s book received the Amazon branded entertainment treatment when it debuted.) Amazon will archive the show so site visitors can watch it after the initial live broadcast, but it won’t be available for download. Making programming downloadable would result in its being easier to share and possibly enable people to view it on portable devices like the video iPod.

The company does promise some “interactive features,” though Strand wouldn’t elaborate. Strand also said Fishbowl is just the first of many 12-episode programs that Amazon has up its sleeve. The company is talking to potential sponsors and Strand says they’ll follow a similar model as the UPS deal, in which the sponsor programming is integrated into the show content. Strand wouldn’t say which advertisers were in talks with Amazon.

They tend to be very innovative and customer-focused brands who are interested in doing creative things,” she said.

Amazon will record a preview episode of Fishbowl this weekend at the Sundance Film Festival, and will dole out highlights from the show beginning January 24 and continuing through the official premiere in June. Maher’s guests for the preview show include musician Rob Thomas; authors Stephen King and Armistead Maupin; and actress Toni Collette. King’s latest novel, Cell, is due to be released January 24.

Though Fishbowl is Amazon’s most ambitious original content effort to date, the company has a long history of creating programming designed to attract attention and encourage purchases of its products. In the past, the company has hosted short films, put on a live concert for its 10th anniversary, and had celebrities contribute original content.

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