Amazon.com Inc. plans to broadcast on its Web site an original show hosted by Bill Maher and featuring performers and authors touting new releases — which, not coincidentally, will be for sale at the online retailer.
The 12-episode Webcast series, which will begin airing June 1, is the first offering in what the Seattle company says is a broader plan to add more original programming to its Web site.
Kathy Savitt, Amazon.com's vice president of strategic communications, content and initiatives, said the long-term goal is to help Amazon.com become more of a "destination," where offerings such as this help people find artists whose works they might not previously have thought of buying.
Analyst Steve Weinstein with Pacific Crest Securities said he thinks it's a good idea for Amazon.com to try to strike a deeper connection with its customers to help keep brand loyalty. But he's not sure how many people will start visiting the site just for such content, or how much difference it will make to the company's finances.
"Is it going to be big enough to really turn the dial? I'm kind of skeptical about that, but it might be an incremental lift," he said.
All of the guests on "Amazon Fishbowl With Bill Maher" will be promoting a new release, such as a book, DVD or CD, and Savitt said the shows will include ways for people to immediately buy the products the performers are touting.
The company plans to record the first show at the Sundance Film Festival this weekend, with guests including authors Stephen King and Armistead Maupin, musician Rob Thomas and actress Toni Collette. It will then preview tidbits of that show beginning Tuesday and leading up to the June 1 launch.
After the launch, the free programs will be available for on-demand viewing anytime, although users cannot download them. The other 30-minute shows will be filmed live in Los Angeles, Savitt said.
Savitt said the company has other, similar series in the works for 2006 and 2007, but she wouldn't provide more details.
Besides sales, the company is relying on sponsors such as delivery company UPS Inc. to help pay for the show. UPS ads will accompany the Webcasts, and Savitt said Maher also will talk about UPS during the show.
"We're working with sponsors in a very different way than traditional advertising," Savitt said, adding that the companies will be "an interwoven and an important and authentic part of the show."
Amazon.com has already tested the waters with previous content offerings. Last summer, for example, Maher also hosted Amazon.com's 10th anniversary concert, which featured Bob Dylan, Norah Jones and other performers.