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Netflix and Amazon Prime Video – Review

First up, I must thank Reliance Jio for actually making Netflix and Amazon Prime Video something worth paying for. I say this because the whole point of being a subscriber to a streaming video service is to be able to use it when you want, and to at least watch a movie while on the move. If not for Jio, I (and millions of other customers in India) would be stuck with expensive data usage bills. It would be cheaper to watch a movie at a multiplex than watch a movie on the phone with the pre-Reliance Jio data usage charges. 

Anyway, so yes, Jio is an important factor in me being able to enjoy streaming services. I am clubbing the review to include both Netflix and Amazon Prime because they launched (almost) simultaneously and they are both trying to accommodate the unique broadband situation here in India. 

To start off with, Prime Video is dirt cheap and is far more ‘value’ than, say, Netflix. Prime Video cost just 500 rupees (roughly 8 dollars) for an entire year. That’s less than 50 rupees per month. Of course, Prime Video is part of Amazon Prime which gives other benefits like free shopping (especially if you are like me and order lot of stuff on Amazon). In so many ways, Prime is just too good for the money it is asking. If we are simply judging the services based on the money basis, then Prime wins hands down. Seriously, Amazon wins, just like that. 

Of course, everything is not just about the value for money though. If so, Netflix should have been biting dust by now. It should have been shutdown. Fortunately, that is not the case. So, allow me to continue with this review. 

Let’s start with the apps and accessibility. Both the services provide access via browser and mobile apps. In this way, there are almost identical. Log in to the website and simply play the movie or video of choice. They both provide offline access. They both use some fantastic on the fly compression technology. What does this mean? Well, internet speed cannot be always guaranteed. That means, as the internet speed keeps varying, the video service must adapt accordingly, changing the video quality (resolution, or the number of pixels that is being pushed down the pipe to the mobile or tablet or browser) must also change. The idea is to make sure that 24 frames per second is available on the screen, come what may. In my experience, they both do this, and they are both pretty good at it. 

Speaking of video quality, Netflix takes a completely ‘I will do everything myself’ approach. That means, there is no fine control available to users to decide the amount of data. If the speed is good, Netflix will automatically use up the maximum available and if the speed is bad, Netflix will do the opposite. Amazon Prime Video, on the other hand, allows fine control over the quality of content that is delivered. I get to choose the lowest quality of speed available, there by consuming the least amount of data that can be consumed. 

I for one, believe the fine control over movie quality is a good thing. Suppose, I am binge watching at a location that has good network speeds. However, although the speed is good, my data cap is not good. On Netflix I cannot control how much data gets consumed. On Amazon Prime, it is possible to set the playback to the lowest possible setting and hence watch more with ending up in a scenario where lots of data is consumed. Perhaps, this (and club that with the fact that Prime Video costs practically nothing) will be the defining reason why Amazon might win the streaming game a few years now, at least in India. 
So far though, it might appear as if I am leaning towards Prime Video as the absolute winner. Yet, Netflix has two Aces up its sleeve and for good or bad, Amazon has a lot of catching up to do. 

The first Ace is the amount of content. Obviously, Netflix has been in the content game lot longer than Amazon. Hence, the amount of Entertainment that is available in Netflix is much more than what is available at Prime. However, this only becomes obvious if one starts using them both regularly. Prime will run out of new stuff to offer (my guess) after 2 to 4 hours of daily watching, after say, 6 to 9 months. Netflix though, will probably not run out of new content even after 4 to 5 years. Then, there are these Netflix exclusives (and there are a lot of them and there seems to be no end in sight for this Netflix original content) which are actually good. 

Along with a huge collection of content, another place where Netflix shines, is content discovery. Content discovery is a issue no matter where you are. You go to a book store to buy a book, but it’s actually difficult to find a book that you might enjoy. Unless you have some very specific tastes (which mostly people don’t) in life, finding what you are looking for is extremely difficult. The same ‘discovery’ issues happen when you are present with a huge digital movie library.

This is where Netflix beats Prime hands down. Netflix has been in the movie business for more than a decade. Prime is simply the new kid on the block. That is why, Prime’s discovery features are just, extremely simple. Netflix seems to better understand what I want as a user and hence keeps recommending what I would probably like to watch next. Prime, just cannot do that right now. This is sort of ironic because Amazon happens to be the world’s largest retailer and hence, knows a lot of stuff about tracking customer behavior. I am shocked that they are unable to implement a subset of that algorithm in their video service. 

Lastly, there are the video players that show the movie. In this case, Prime has both a forward and back button, which is extremely useful if one wishes to skip forward and skip backward quickly. Netflix does not have skip forward, and I wished it has. Amazon also owns imdb, so lot of information is directly integrated into the player which is sort of neat. Netflix does not have this. 

The big question is, which one to choose. Personally, I like both and I will probably keep both. For those who can only pick one, then it comes to down to amount of watching you might do. If you consume less than a few hours of media every week, then Prime should be good enough. If consumption is more than 20 hours per week, Netflix is the best option. 

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Netflix and Amazon Prime Video are here with offline option

[logo of amazon and netflix, obtained from their official logo disbersing media center links on their website]

A while ago, I blogged that Netflix should enable offline mode. I made a case as to why that is not just neccessary, but rather mandatory if netflix wishes to survive. And now, as of this writing not only is netflix offering offline video, amazon prime video is finally here. It just so happens that Prime Video always had offline mode.

For me, as a consumer, this is a god send. This and other scenarios such as the entry of Reliance Jio are a sign of things. It is not a coincidence that netflix and amazon video make an entry into the second most populous country in the world, and Jio launches in India. Internet has always been one of those things that was needed but not available. Despite the valiant efforts of Reliance, Jio will still fall well short of meeting the broadband needs of Indian consumers. However, at least, there is availability in a place where there none to start with. This explains why Netfilx and Amazon are making an entry into the Indian market.

This will also signify an intense shift in the way we consume media. The smartphone - cheap as it is - is perhaps the only gateway for a lot of folks to everything from accessing information to porn to entertainment. Now that (limited) broadband access is also in place, Netflix and Prime Video need to do what they can to get people to use it. I see this impacting a lot of folks in a variety of ways.

Obviously, Vodafone and Airtel will have to reduce their rates. They would rather make less money and keep their customers than the other way around. So, data rates and broadband rates should come down drastically, and then stay steady.

Compression technology should also improve incredibly. India will always be a special case when it comes to broadband speeds. We still believe 256 to 512 Kbps qualifies as 'broadband'. I am already seeing Prime Video offering to deliver an hour of content for less than 100 MB. That is just awesome. Of course, compression technology is usually open source. So, what we will probably see is innovation in the ability to compress content on the fly, and then deliver it.

Another place where I see this impacting is general entertainment. Especially, movie box office. The television has already taken a huge bite out of movie business (which explains why a box of popcorn costs more than the movie ticket itself). With folks being able to get entertainment on their mobile screens, there is an even less reason to step out of the home and sit in a cramped movie hall and watch half a dozen trailers, ads and what not, before the actual movie starts.

Then, there are the originals. As it is already happening with many bollywood productions, I fully expect some of the more advanced movie studios like YashRaj and Red Chillies to tie up with these streaming providers for exclusive content. I wont be surprised if SRK or Salman Khan produce and may be even act in special content. I expect them to have a huge pay day as well.

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