Is This Amazon's Best Shot at Netflix?

Today's a big day for's Prime Instant video service. The deal it struck with Time Warner's HBO to offer some of the premium movie channel's content went live today. Members of Amazon's Prime loyalty shopper club can stream the entire runs of classic shows including The Wire, Six Feet Under, and The Sopranos. Older episodes of some current shows, including Boardwalk Empire and True Blood, are also in the catalog, but we're not talking about recent episodes. The content available from HBO shows that are still on the air is at least three years old. 

It's still a great catch for Amazon. Streaming has proven to be a great platform for quality serialized dramas, and that's exactly what Amazon is getting here. Sure, there are also some documentaries and stand-up specials in the mix, but this is also a way for folks to get back in touch with cult faves along the lines of Carnivale and Oz that may not be as marketable for HBO but are still capable of appealing to a new audience.

If you're wondering why Netflix didn't make a play for this valuable content, it's not as if it had a choice.

"We didn't bid on it," CFO David Wells said at the J.P. Morgan Technology, Media and Telecom Conference yesterday. "To my knowledge, they didn't shop it."

"It's good older content with some conspicuous absences in the title list," he continued, hoping to strip the deal of some of its relevance. "It solves a problem for HBO. They probably were not getting a lot of HBO traffic on those catalog titles, and they need to reach that core never market."

Wells is biased, of course. Arguing that this isn't HBO's best content -- and that HBO needed a way to reach folks that will "never" pay for cable -- misses the point. There's now more content on Amazon that viewers can't get on Netflix.

This doesn't have to be bad for Netflix. HBO went directly to Amazon -- Netflix's closest, yet distant, direct competitor -- to offer it valuable content. Is that more likely to result in cancellations for Netflix than it is in people subscribing to both Amazon Prime Instant and Netflix and cutting the cord with their cable providers? A year of Netflix combined with Amazon Prime costs roughly as much as a year of HBO, and that's before the costly requirement of a cable plan. 

Don't let Netflix diminish the significance of this content deal -- but don't assume that Netflix will suffer as a result of a more valuable Amazon streaming platform.

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