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Amazon Invests in Original Shows, Taking on Netflix and TV

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Amazon is now officially competing on the same playing field as Netflix—not to mention cable TV. The online retailer announced on Thursday it's producing six original comedy pilots for its Amazon Instant Video streaming service.

Here's the best part: Amazon is looking for viewer input.

"We want Amazon customers to help us decide which original series we should produce," said Roy Price, director of Amazon Studios.

Customers will get to watch the pilots, comment and weigh in, and help Amazon decide which to produce into a series. (Read More: Amazon Deal 'Final Straw' for Netflix: Analyst.)

Ever since Amazon launched Amazon Studios in 2010, the company has been building up its plans to develop and distribute original films and series.

The studio has been soliciting scripts for new productions and offering modest fees—$10,000 for an option, $55,000 if a show is produced, plus royalties. The six pilots Amazon is producing have been selected from more than 2,000 series ideas that were submitted.

So what's on tap?

The series are largely from industry veterans.

Alpha House, about four senators who live together in a rented house in Washington DC is written by Doonesbury's Garry Trudeau.

Browsers, a musical comedy about young people working at a news site, is written by an Emmy winning writer from "The Daily Show" and a director from "30 Rock."

The "Big Bang Theory's" co-stars have written "Dark Minions," an animated workplace series.

Another animated series, "Supernatural," will be produced by a "Daily Show" producer.

"The Onion Presents: The News" is a scripted comedy set behind the scenes of The Onion News Network.

The one show with no familiar brands or industry veterans attached is called "Those Who Can't." It was discovered "through Amazon Studios online open door process."

How will it work?

Once the pilots are completed, they'll be posted on Amazon Instant Video for customers to watch for free. Viewers will be asked to submit comments and feedback.

That feedback will help Amazon decide which pilots to pick up. The completed seasons will be exclusively available to subscribers to Amazon Prime, who pay $79 a year.

(Read More: Why Netflix Soared After Coinstar's Redbox Announcement .)

What's Amazon's plan?

The excitement of a crowd-sourced development process aims to lure more subscribers—and shine a spotlight—on its subscription offering. And exclusive content will help Amazon compete with Netflix and Hulu, both of whom have been investing in original, exclusive content for their subscribers. (Read More: The Future of TV? Netflix Scores Massive Disney Deal .)

What distinguishes Amazon's offering is the fact that it's inviting people to be involved in the production process. No longer are the broadcast and cable channels the only place to find original content—digital distribution is competing for the same content, and the same consumers.

—By CNBC's Julia Boorstin; Follow her on Twitter: @JBoorstin

  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.