With over 100 million subscribers worldwide and an enviable body of talent supplying original content (at a reported $6 billion bill this year alone), the dominance of Netflix in the global video streaming market is undeniable. Later this month, the second outing of their Stranger Things is to arrive with hype almost akin to Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi, whilst more of their BAFTA, Emmy, and Golden Globe-winning series The Crown is also on the horizon.
Equally impressive is the vast film library the service boasts, with everything from Shrek to Spectre; Hot Fuzz to The Hunger Games. They’ve even got their own features such as the critically lauded shapes of Okja and Oscar-nominated documentary 13th. For all the gusto of its original content, however, Netflix’s cinematic offerings are not as impressive as can be found over on their principal rival: Amazon Prime.
Over the past two decades, Amazon – the world’s largest online retailer – has steadily grown and ultimately dominated the lives of international consumers, particularly in the field of entertainment. The business, under chairman and founder Jeff Bezos, has a whopping 18 subsidiary companies, including Audible.com, Goodreads, and the Internet Movie Database. Were that not enough, the past seven years have seen the expansion of Amazon Studios, the producer and distributer of their own original content, much of which, following a theatrical release, can be found and viewed on Amazon’s subscriber streaming service: Prime Video.
Launched in 2006 as Amazon Unbox, Prime Video has taken time to find its feet. Three rebrands came and went in its first five years of operation alone. Indeed, it is only in the past two years that they’ve hit a turning point, beginning with 2015’s Transparent securing the first major award (a Golden Globe) for any original content on a streaming platform, and, a year later, the expensive and widespread global promotion of Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond’s motor series, The Grand Tour. Meanwhile, this year has seen their televisual success osmose into film too, with Manchester by the Sea, distributed by Amazon Studios, going on to claim two Oscars back in February. The Kenneth Lonergan film can now, already, be viewed on Amazon Prime.
If you’d rather watch the Academy’s Best Picture of this year’s awards – Moonlight – you can, because they have that too, along with further winners and nominees from the ceremony: Jackie, Lion, Hell or High Water and Arrival, from Blade Runner 2049 director Denis Villeneuve. Added to those, Amazon Prime can also boast Moonlight’s preceding two Best Picture Winners: Spotlight and Birdman.
This is not to say that Amazon is a utilitarian business. Certainly, when it comes to tax issues, staff pay, and market dominance over smaller industries, many will baulk at praise for the company. Here, however, is not the place for such talk. With a student starting deal of just £6 for six months (£4.99/month thereafter), the offering is quite remarkable in value. On top of Prime Video, subscribers to the service have access to Prime Music (another package gradually improving, and home to a lovely selection of film scores) as well as free next-day delivery, exclusive offers, and, just for students, an extra 10 per cent off thousands of textbooks. This, as Netflix is set to raise the cost of its HD/two screens package to £7.99 and premium subscription up to £9.99, with the cheapest option still priced £5.99/month — £1 more than Amazon Prime and with no further offerings or student deals.
Amazon is yet to perfect its film streaming service. Hours can be spent sifting through the duds but it is in prime position to take the top spot in terms of cinematic quality. Of course, it helps that Amazon have taken a more strategic approach to filmmaking with their output. Whilst Netflix makes no friends among film festival and awards season crowds with an online-only approach to distribution, Amazon have been quick to branch out into cinemas and it’s paying off – critically and financially. In the Oscar-friendly months to come, watch out for Richard Linklater’s Last Flag Flying and Woody Allen’s Wonder Wheel, starring Kate Winslet, Juno Temple, and Justin Timberlake.
Even if you’re not willing to splash out on a regular subscription, Amazon offers rentals of the latest releases, and basically any film you can think of, at very reasonable prices, with HD and SD options. Having recently given up on LoveFilm – their enormous DVD rental library – it’s no surprise that Amazon have had to up their game. DVDs have never felt more like a vestige of a rising past. In focussing on television of late, meanwhile, Netflix may, possibly, be on the slide in terms of the best in modern cinema. Only time will tell as to whether Amazon can maintain the momentum, but they’re certainly heading in the right direction for my money.
Netflix may be well known as the place to “chill” but it’s Amazon that’s feeling hot right now.