Amazon’s New Instant Streaming Service for Prime Members

February 23, 2011

Yesterday, Amazon announced and released their new streaming service as an added bonus to their Prime customers. Amazon Prime is a value-added service that gives you free two day shipping on all of your Amazon purchases for a yearly fee of $79. So, Amazon enters the all you can watch buffet competing against Netflix and Hulu Plus. You can get a free one month trial of Prime here

Previously, the Hub had done a comparison of the Roku and TiVo Amazon Video on Demand Players. Unfortunately, TiVo cannot take advantage of Prime streaming yet. While TiVo’s model of downloading content works for shows you buy, it doesn’t allow for streaming. No word yet on when TiVo will release a new client or if they plan to.

The last two evenings, the Hub test drove Amazon’s new service. On the Roku, they did a great job integrating with the current player. It would be nice if they could add something similar to Netflix’s instant queue or extend the functionality of “My Library” where your purchased shows are listed.

While a couple of evenings isn’t a lot of data points, the Amazon service was much more robust than in the Hub’s previous experience. I watched a variety of content in high def (which appears to be 720P) and standard definition. The standard definition shows were very clear. The Hub did not encounter any of the past problems around skipping, audio drop-outs or pixelization.

Let’s look at the changes to the Roku client. Here’s the opening screen of version 1.8 of the Amazon Channel:

Opening screen tells you about Prime Instant Video
Prime Instant Video is a new top level category
Browsing “Top Movies”
Browsing TV Show categories. Same exists for movies

There’s lots of BBC Shows in the Catalog

While Amazon states there’s 5,000 titles in the catalog it doesn’t feel like a lot of them are browsable.  The catalog feels very heavy on BBC shows including many seasons of Doctor Who (which I’m happy about).  However, the catalog does not feel anywhere near as deep as Netflix’s yet.  Also, while there are movies to rent in HD with 5.1 surround sound, the Hub could not find any of them available via Prime streaming.  There was a limited number of TV shows available in HD.

Browsing Top TV
Episode list after selecting a particular show. 

Details of a particular show.  Oddly, it doesn’t tell us it’s in HD but other shows are correctly identified


And there it is!!

Will Amazon be successful? Since it’s bundled with an existing service, they started out with an impressive subscriber base. One estimate puts it at 7.5 million customers. The Amazon video client is available on almost 200 devices. Assume there’s some overlap between folks who are Prime customers and who also subscribe to Netflix. While most of those folks won’t cancel Netflix tomorrow, they probably will if Amazon grows their streaming library. Remember, Netflix is a monthly service without a commitment so they haven’t done much to lock folks in. Given the high rate of cancellations Netflix already has, Amazon’s offerings will potentially slow Netflix’s subscriber growth (good article on this here)

On top of this, Amazon is offering one-stop shopping that you can’t find anywhere else:  You search for a movie and it could be available in the streaming library. If not, you may be able to buy it a la carte and stream it.  If that’s not an option, you could also purchase the DVD or blu-ray (and since you’re a Prime member, the shipping is free!). On top of that, you can stream some DVD and blu-ray titles while you wait for the delivery. It will be interesting to see what the market looks like a year from now.

Tags: Amazon, Netflix, Roku, TiVo

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