SMOKINCHOICES (and other musings)

September 5, 2012

Netflix – Amazon competition


Amazon hasn’t out-Netflixed competition yet


In the olden days, bargains added spice to life. You’d get a free toaster with a new bank account, or a collectible drinking glass with a gas fill-up. Old-timers even claim that at one time, you got free meals on airplanes.  Today, most of that is gone — but streaming movie plans are still around.

Netflix, for example, offers a huge catalog of on-demand movies and TV shows. You can watch as many of them as you want for a fixed $8 a month. For less than the price of a single movie ticket, you can watch movies until your eyeballs fall out.

Of course, you need a fast Internet connection. You don’t get any DVD extras, such as featurettes or director commentaries. The picture quality generally isn’t even as good as a DVD, let alone a Blu-ray disc.   Still, this service has become hugely popular; Netflix’s army of 27 million streaming-video subscribers dwarfs its 9 million DVD-by-mail members. Incredibly,   Netflix video streams make up one-quarter of all Internet data transmitted in North America.

It didn’t take long for rivals to start sniffing out the same territory — big ones, such as Amazon.

Instead of paying Netflix $8 a month, you get Amazon’s streaming-movie service free with the purchase of an Amazon Prime membership — $79 a year.    Prime membership started out as an attractive option for people who shop a lot on Amazon: for $79 a year, you get free two-day shipping on almost any purchase (or $4 overnight). Then Amazon added those streaming movies to the Prime perks, and then added one free Kindle e-book rental a month.

Random, right? It’s like a Fruit of the Month Club membership that comes with free oil changes, ski socks and tax advice.

Still,  Prime is a great deal.  Even if you don’t care about free shipping or e-book downloads, you’re getting unlimited movies for less than Netflix’s $8 a month.

So is that it, then? Has Amazon turned Netflix’s streaming-movie plan into an overpriced relic of 2010?

Not unless you’re getting the same thing for the money. To determine that, you have to ask three questions: What is there to watch? Where can you watch it? And what’s the experience of watching like?

• What to watch: Streaming-movie services have hundreds of good movies — but the catalogs lack far more than they stock. In other words, you’ll always be able to find something good to watch, but don’t expect to find a particular movie.
Most of the movies on Netflix are old. There are a few brand-name, late-model movies — Thor, Captain America, Super 8, Limitless, The Rum Diary, The Lincoln Lawyer — but not much else you’ve heard of from 2011 or 2012.
Amazon’s collection is similar: You can always find good movies there, but nothing recent, and they are surrounded by mountains of no-name chaff.

• Where to watch: Both services let you watch on your Mac or PC, Roku box, Xbox, PlayStation 3, Nintendo 3DS or tablet (iPad or Kindle Fire).
You can watch on your actual TV, too, if you have the right set-top box, Bluray player or TV set from Samsung, Sony or LG.
Still, Netflix wins here; it’s also available on TiVo, Apple TV, iPhone, Nintendo Wii, Android phones and tablets, Nook color e-book readers, the Boxee box, Windows Phones and more Blu-ray players and TV sets — 900 models in all, says the company. Yes, that’s right: You live in an age when you can watch real movies on your cellphone.

• What watching is like: Even with your face mashed against two screens playing side by side, it’s hard to declare one of these services a picture-quality winner. Both remember your place in a movie if you resume watching it on another gadget.

More than 80 percent of Netflix movies now offer subtitles; none of Amazon’s do. Those subtitles are a godsend if you’re having trouble hearing, you want to mute the TV, or you can’t understand Sylvester Stallone.   And when you scroll a Netflix movie, scene thumbnails appear above your cursor so you know how far you’ve scanned; on Amazon, you have to guess.

The bottom line: Netflix beats Prime on movie selection, site clarity and playback features. It has much more to watch, too; Netflix won’t say how many movies it has, but informed estimates put its catalog at twice the size of Amazon’s.

Amazon Prime costs less than Netflix; if you find value in the free shipping and Kindle downloads, it costs a lot less. And if you accept that both of these services are more a potluck dinner than a complete menu, maybe the smaller catalog doesn’t matter.
Fortunately, there’s an easy way to find out how much the price/catalog size drawbacks bother you:

Sign up for a free month of each service. After all, there’s only one deal better than $7 or $8 a month for unlimited movie watching: unlimited movie watching for $0.
David Pogue writes for The New York Times.



  1. Yes, $8 is cheap for Netflix/Amazon, but the selection is STILL dismal at best, unless you’re a die hard documentary nut, or like TV show reruns because you lived most of your life under a rock. The problem is that I HAVE to have the by-mail disc rental, because I actually like variety. That’s why I’m thankful that my employer, Dish, bought Blockbuster because now Blockbuster @Home gives me both streaming and Blu-ray by-mail for less than both services from Netflix. The best selection and quality of movies with instant gratification are what I get from both streaming and mail, so I get to have my cake and eat it too.

    Comment by JimmyMackey — September 11, 2012 @ 4:33 pm | Reply

    • Hi Jimmy, thanks for your input. So I think you’re saying that you probably get a better price than I or anyone else is going to have because you work for “Dish”. That’s radical! Lucky you. Tried to sign up for Netflix about 1/2 year ago and got so confused with the opening page, I couldn’t figure out how to do it. I feel like growling when something I’m attempting to do makes me feel inadequate or stupid. I wanted to sign up, really, but couldn’t find an offering page telling me what the various options cost. So I gave up.

      Hadn’t heard of Blockbuster@Home, maybe I’ll try to find this online. Appreciate that. Jan

      Comment by Jan Turner — September 11, 2012 @ 5:22 pm | Reply

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