Streaming Services Up the Ante

In the past week there have been a number of announce that impact the content delivery world: Netflix has reached an agreement with CBS to carry its back catalog; Amazon has announced that its prime users will now be able to access from free content through their demand service; and for movie buffs the biggest coup may be Hulu’s announcement that the Criterion Collection would now be available to Hulu Plus members.

While Amazon opted to take over their opening page to make the announcement loud and clear:

The service announces an approximate 5,000 titles in the Prime library. While much of this content may seem either uninteresting or already available on Netflix, it does provide a perk to Prime membership that didn’t exist before. It will be interesting to see how the Prime content will grow or change in the coming days. Prime content is easily distinguished on the Amazon.com website by a new and obvious link in the browsing menu that takes you directly to the content. On the roku device, however, there is currently no such menu simplifying Prime content discovery. When browsing content on the roku individual episodes and movies will indicate that they are free for Prime viewers.

Netflix VP of Content Acquisition Cindy Holland quietly blogged:

Hi Cindy Holland here, VP content acquisition. I’m excited to tell you we’ve struck a deal with CBS and starting in April, you’ll be able to enjoy episodes of fan favorites like “Medium” and “Flashpoint,” as well as full seasons of the classic series “Cheers,” “Frasier,” “Twin Peaks,” “Family Ties” and “The Andy Griffith Show.” Also available: the original versions of TV greats “Star Trek,” “Twilight Zone” and “Hawaii Five-O.”

This is the first time CBS library programs are available to watch instantly, making Netflix the only online premium subscription service with shows from all four broadcast networks and many of the biggest cable TV outlets. We’re totally committed to bringing a wider selection of great shows and movies to our members and this does just that.
[original blog post]
[press release]

The CBS content is not yet available for instant viewing, and no date has been indicated as of yet. We can most likely expect content to be rolled out as it becomes available.

Hulu made a similarly less than ostentatious blog announcement coupled with a promo video:

The Criterion content is already available both through the website and set top devices. Unlike much of Hulu’s content, the movies appear to be presented nearly advertisement free except for a short ad at the beginning of the video.

The announcements from Hulu and Netflix strengthen them each in a segment where the other finds strength. One of the chief complaints users have with Hulu’s content is the lack of feature films of mention. Certainly the addition of the Criterion Collection qualifies as content that will enrich their library dominated television content. Although Netflix will certainly benefit from the CBS content, it is perhaps CBS that will see the greater reward for the effort. While every other major network has seen its content available online for quite some time the gap for CBS has been glaring.

It will be interesting to see how Amazon will position itself as a content provider under these terms. At $79 per year the prime service falls between Hulu’s $60 ($4.99/month) and Netflix at $96 ($7.99/month for streaming only). The added bonus of free second day shipping from their retail service may gain Amazon some peaks, but until that content can grow to a more robust offering it may not be able to contend as a player in the flat rate streaming forum. As an on demand service Amazon finds its chief competition with iTunes and Zune which I briefly outlined in a Lexicon article I Demand It. Perhaps with the recent rise popularity of the Roku device Amazon is looking to capture a further segment of the market by broadening the diversity of their services.

Sources: Netflix Blog, Netflix Press Release, Hulu Blog, Amazon.com

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