Netflix has been killing it with their original programming this year, but they are not the only game in town when it comes to online digital video streaming. A company we normally associate with the acquisition of everything not digital, has been dipping their toes into the digital stream for quite some time. Amazon has had great success with their Kindle e-book reader, and continues to make inroads with their music services and video streaming. While Amazon’s video streaming is a great source of movies and great television, such as Hannibal, recently they have begun to take a page out of Netflix’s playbook and invest heavily in original programming. With 1 critical hit already under their belt, Amazon is hitting even harder in the next few years, as a true Netflix competitor. Unfortunately, Amazon has made some baffling choices, outside of content itself, that are hindering their future in this space. As such, we at TVEnthusiast would like this article to stand as a plea to Amazon. A plea to make some changes, and to provide a better video streaming service.
About Amazon Prime Instant Video
Unlike Netflix, when people think about Amazon Prime, they typically don’t think about the thousands of hours of video content available to them. With Amazon Prime people think about 2 day shipping first, and then some cool little side benefits they get as well. Perhaps this is at the heart of Amazon’s issues competing with Netflix, though they HAVE done some cool things to set themselves apart in the video field. Most notable of these is the way Amazon invites its users to participate in its pilot season. A TV pilot is an episode of the show produced before the show itself is ordered. The purpose of a pilot is to convince network executives that the show is something they want on their network, something they can sell ads on, or entice subscribers with. Except in the case of pilots that are not reshot when a series is ordered, we usually are left out of the pilot process entirely. Not only does Amazon let you watch the pilots, but they give you the option to give your feedback on the ones you watch. When Amazon started the program, the pilots left a lot to be desired, and we questioned the wisdom of Amazon opening up the process. Recently, however, Amazon’s pilot season has introduced us to some good stuff. Critical hits like Transparent started in a pilot season, and now Amazon has fans waiting with baited breath for the continuation of The Man in the High Castle, which they introduced as a pilot.
Please Amazon, Fix Your Interface
To me, one of the biggest issues with Amazon Prime Instant Video is the interface of their software. In this area, Amazon has a multitude of problems to address. Some of these issues have already been sorted by competitors, and others are problems unique to Amazon’s business model. First off, there needs to be a quicker way to distinguish between subscriber and purchaser content, though there are some mechanisms in place, they just aren’t enough. It is incredibly frustrating to find a show that looks good, only to discover you have to pay an additional charge. This is an issue unique to Amazon as services like Netflix do not offer purchasable content, and services like iTunes and Google Play don’t have video subscriptions. My instinct would be to suggest a flat division between the 2, though that would interfere with potential purchases from prime subscribers. In this area, I don’t have an answer for my complaint.
But there are other areas that can be addressed, such as the seasonal division of series. When you search Amazon Instant Video for a series you are pinged back with every season of the series as an individual entry, and they do not return in order. So if I want to watch an episode from Season 5 of LOST, it might be the first result, or it could be 2 pages over, but I cannot simply gauge where it is because season 3 is 1st, then season 1, then season 6, it would be much easier if it all showed up together as LOST (6 seasons). To be fair, once you select a season you can easily move to another, but the initial introduction is unnecessarily confusing. Another thing that could simplify this process is a decent queue system. Amazon’s might as well not exist, though in this case, Netflix is also weak. Might I suggest taking a look at Crunchyroll’s queue. Perhaps the biggest issue for me using Amazon Prime Instant Video, though, is the clunkiness and slow speed of navigation. My primary device for Amazon content is my Wii U, and compared to Netflix, and Hulu, it is a nightmare. Slow, unresponsive, and requiring the use of both screens at all times. It just sucks.
Please Amazon, Support All Hardware
As an Android user, Amazon’s video service has been a pain in the ass since it existed. Hell, it only became available on the platform at all about a year ago. Even now, you have to essentially sideload the app through the regular Amazon app, or through their (also sideloaded, and even clunkier) app store. But hey, it’s there now, right, no harm no foul? No, because it is the ONLY significant video app on Android that doesn’t support Google’s successful Chromecast, or any other casting option. Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, Crunchyroll, Youtube, Vimeo, even the recently released HBO Now, all of them support Chromecast and other video casting options. This issue is made even worse when you consider that a 3rd party developer put out a solution to this which Amazon immediately flagged. The problem stems from Amazon competing with other video streaming hardware providers. Why should Amazon support somebody else’s hardware? The answer is simple, Amazon is in the content business, and as such, they should want their app everywhere. It isn’t as if the app is exclusive to their hardware anyways, it is available on all of the major consoles, and on every other streaming box. So why the casting neglect? It seems to be a big FU to Google, but Google isn’t suffering, not in the least. The only ones suffering are Chromecast and Miracast owners with Amazon Prime accounts. To me, this just shows Amazon as being a petty company.
Please Amazon, Keep Pilot Season Going
As I mentioned earlier, Amazon’s pilot season was initially met with criticism, but the criticism has waned as good exclusives like Transparent and Mozart in the Jungle began to surface. Don’t let the previous criticisms hold you back, pilot season has proven itself. If I could offer a few suggestions though:
- Be pickier – It can be jarring going through a pilot season and seeing heaves of polish on 1 show followed by some incredibly rough edges on another.
- Be more transparent – Giving us access to pilots is great, but fans have no measure of how their voices have weighed in your decisions.
- Increase awareness – We know you can advertise, you are actually pretty good at it, so just let people know that pilot season exists. Make it an event, consider what Lays does every year with their Do Me a Flavor campaign.
Pilot season is a great thing, and I hope it becomes greater. With more transparency, awareness, and better offerings to choose from, pilot season could become a part of the appointment viewing experience we have been missing with the modern age of video streaming.
Diversity Matters in the Industry
HBO changed the content game with their high profile film quality shows like The Sopranos and Deadwood. Netflix changed the game again, by offering full seasons at a time, like books released as a collection of chapters, rather than a serialized chapter released every week. Through continuous involvement from web based video services the “game” is constantly in flux. Amazon, as such a massive business, with their fingers in so many pies, is in a grand position to change the game like none have ever before. Perhaps they will, but with petty hardware restrictions and sloppy software implementations, that likelihood is… Unlikely.
What are your thoughts on Amazon’s streaming video service? Tell us in our comments, and stay tuned to TVEnthusiast for more coverage of all of your favorite shows.