Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Amazon Tries Breaking From the Streaming-Video Pack With Offline Viewing for New Kindles

dora1Amazon has been spending a lot of time and money trying to catch up to Netflix in the subscription-video race. So far, not much luck: Many more people seem to be watching video via Reed Hastings’s service.

But now Jeff Bezos has something new: Offline viewing.

Amazon’s new line of Kindle Fire HDX tablets will let Prime Instant Video users* download some movies and TV shows to their devices, for free, for up to 30 days, so they can watch without an Internet connection. Once they start watching a particular title, they’ll have 48 hours to finish.

That’s a feature no other U.S. subscription-streaming service currently offers. And it might prove very handy for travelers, or anyone else who wants to watch something on a laptop or tablet but doesn’t have access to good broadband.

Amazon says it would like to make the feature available for all of its Prime Instant shows and movies. But, for now, it’s only going to be available on a subset of its titles, because the company has to haggle with rights owners to get the extra feature.

Amazon won’t spell out how many of its titles will be available for download, but says the feature will apply to “tens of thousands” of movies and shows. In June, the company said Prime Instant had more than 41,000 titles, which suggests that it may be available on at least half of Amazon’s catalog.

Amazon says participating studios include Comcast’s NBC, Viacom, Sony, CBS and Time Warner’s Warner Bros.; titles include “Under The Dome,” “Downton Abbey,” “Justified,” “Dora the Explorer,” “Sponge Bob” and “Goodfellas.”

The move is interesting because it shows Amazon’s desire to differentiate itself from competitors like Netflix and Hulu. Up until now, the only way for the services to really stand out from each other is via exclusive content deals — Amazon, for instance, has been the only place you could stream CBS’s “Under the Dome” this summer.

It also demonstrates that Hollywood and the TV networks’ thinking is evolving when it comes to “windowing” their products via different delivery methods. In the past, video owners have tried to keep download rights separate from subscription-streaming rights, reserving the former for sales and rentals.

Video industry executives say they expect download rights to eventually show up at Amazon’s competitors; Google’s YouTube has already announced plans for offline viewing for its free videos. It’s also possible that downloads really won’t be significant for lots of people, who don’t have trouble finding a good broadband connection in the place they want to watch “Dora.”

So, it may be that Amazon’s move won’t mean much in the long run. For now, at least, it’s an interesting twist, and well worth watching.

*Amazon’s streaming service is provided free to people who pay $79 a year for Amazon’s Prime delivery subscription package.

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