It’s fair to say Netflix owned the San Diego Comic Con by unveiling trailers for upcoming Marvel shows Luke Cage, Iron Fist and Defenders, plus announcing that they’ve got the UK rights for the new Star Trek TV series. Add this to the rave reviews Stranger Things has been getting and Netflix is having a pretty good month.
By comparison the other streaming services don’t seem to be doing nearly as well, but Amazon Prime is quietly doing much, much better than you may well realise.
Up until recently, Prime Video was the subscription you could do without. But with Prime’s increase in UK-exclusive deals, it’s suddenly a must. It’s recently secured the brilliantly cynical reality TV drama UnREAL, set behind the scenes of a Bachelor-esque show, and The Girlfriend Experience, based (very loosely) on the Steven Soderbergh movie of the same name about a law student-turned-high-end prostitute. But its biggest coup to date is in securing the UK-exclusive deal for Preacher, the utterly bonkers, bloody (and bloody hilarious) comic book adaptation from Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg and Breaking Bad’s Sam Catlin. If you don’t have Amazon Prime, sign up for their free trial for Preacher alone.
Netflix undoubtedly leaves Prime standing when it comes to original programming. No amount of success for Prime’s transgender comedy Transparent can make up for the sheer volume, variety and quality of Netflix Originals. (Although if Amazon’s pilot for The Last Tycoon, starring Matt Bomer, Kelsey Grammer and Lily Cole goes to a full series, it could become its House of Cards.) But where Amazon is really starting to pull ahead is in securing exclusive broadcast rights to US TV shows.
It’s currently streaming season two of twisty, addictive hacker thriller Mr Robot within hours of its US debut, just in time to replace its hugely popular time travel romance Outlander. Prime is already showing Preacher and UnREAL right after US broadcast, and are also doing the same with Cameron Crowe’s Roadies and BrainDead, the new sci-fi/politics show from the creators of The Good Wife. In a world of easy illegal downloading, getting a new show to the UK as quickly as possible is key to securing your audience, and Prime Video are doing a great job of it.
Netflix, while constantly adding new shows either from other networks or from their own original programming strand, rarely streams shows episode-by-episode right after US broadcast. They’re focusing more and more on Netflix Originals, becoming increasingly like a subscription channel akin to HBO.
If Netflix is the home of binge-viewing boxsets, then Prime Video is where you go if you still want to watch a show episode-by-episode, engage in Twitter debates about each new episode and avoid having the whole show ruined for you before you even get a chance to watch episode one.
Prime also has big AMC boxsets like Halt and Catch Fire, set during the boom of the PC market in the 1980s, and Turn, a drama set during the American War of Independence, which is growing in strength after a weak first series. Or if you’re still missing The Wire and Mad Men, catch Omar and Joan (AKA Michael Kenneth Williams and Christina Hendricks) in Hap and Leonard, a ‘swamp noir’ packed with crime, violence and black humour from Sundance TV.
Amazon Prime is fast becoming the place for classy and unusual boxsets, taking a chance on networks like Starz to bring America’s soon-to-be cable classics to the UK. Legally. For slightly cheaper than Netflix (if you pay for the whole yearly subscription up front). Oh, don’t worry, it has the trashy stuff too. You can rewatch 24, The Walking Dead and The X-Files to your heart’s content as part of the Prime subscription. And, if you're willing to spend a little extra dough, you can rent or purchase a wide selection of current shows and movies through Prime too, such as Game of Thrones, on top of the subscription offering. It's a pricey option, but an option nonetheless, one that Netflix doesn't offer.
If you’ve been putting off getting Prime Video because you’re still working your way through the Netflix catalogue, then now might well be the time to give Amazon a go, before the internet spoils Preacher and Mr Robot for you (because it will). I’m almost tempted to surrender my Netflix subscription altogether, but Stranger Things has its 80s nostalgia claws in me and I’m looking forward to Luke Cage with the same anticipation usually reserved for Beyoncé album drops.
Netflix may soon find that they have to run ever faster to stay ahead – or even just to stay neck-and-neck with Amazon Prime. But a little healthy competition never hurt anyone.