Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Amazon Starts Up Its Web Video Service. Not a Netflix-Killer, But a Start

Here’s Amazon’s cautious toe-touch into Web video subscriptions: A smattering of movies it’s offering for free to anyone who is using its $79 a year “Prime” delivery service.

This appears to be exactly the same program that an Engadget tipster sniffed out last month. And, as previously noted, it’s not going to get anyone to stop subscribing to Netflix, or abandon any other online or offline video service they’re already using: Amazon is starting off with a selection of 5,000 movies and TV shows, and almost none of them are mainstream favorites.

Instead, the retailer’s selection is heavy on documentaries, indies, etc. Definitely check out “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” if you’ve never seen it, and “Man on Wire” is my favorite documentary in years. Oooh. And there’s a Louis C.K. stand-up special, too. Amazon PR says the company will offer 1,600 movies, and 4,000 tv show episodes, to start.

In essence, Amazon is more or less doing what Netflix did when it started out on the Web, too: Grabbing the streaming rights to whatever it could buy/afford, and throwing it in as a freebie (note that “Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Man on Wire”–but not the Louis C.K. stuff–are available via Netflix Instant, too).

But now check out Netflix, which has a catalog of some 20,000 titles, and is selling an all-digital service for $8 month–one that is apparently attracting a third of its new customers.

Amazon certainly has the dollars and clout to compete with Netflix – and Apple, and Microsoft, and Hulu, and whoever else wants to bid on these rights, which generally aren’t exclusive, anyway. So if it wants to push aggressively into Web video, it can.

But for now, consider this a starting point, and not much more.


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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald