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Streaming Content Providers - An Inside Look

We are a pretty active streaming house and readily access Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) prime movies, Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX), Crackle, as well as some other movie services like PBS Kids. This article looks at these competing and to some extent, complementary, services in terms of what the offer, ease of use, as well as some lesser know issues associated with them.


Not less than a year ago, most services were pretty much the same. Starting a stream would begin with a progress bar along with some indication of quality (four circles) after which if all were colored in, the stream might achieve an additional classification of "HD" which was the highest quality possible. Over the past year, Netflix has dropped this indication, and just shows the progress bar leading up to the start of the movie. As the movie begins, the quality of the movie gradually shifts from kind of grainy to increasingly clear. However, one never really knows what level of quality you are watching - it is assumed to be what ever quality Netflix decides is right for both you and "them". Amazon, to its credit still does it the old fashion way. So when you begin a movie, you know what quality you are watching (some number of circles or "HD"). The only caveat being that if you are watching "HD", and your buffer empties, the picture freezes, you see the progress bar reappear, and your HD indication shuts off - assume this means they ratcheted your quality down a notch. Netflix doesn't do that but you can see the picture get grainy at times during the playback - that is its way of doing this on the fly.

On TV Searching

Searching is a very important feature and likely doesn't get the attention it deserves. Amazon has the most capable search - hands down. Their search allows you to search by movie title, actor, and to some extent director. Also, when you search, Amazon's suggestion engine is top shelf - often generating a list of possible matches that limit your need from having to enter more letters. The only problem with Amazon's search, is most of the search results are for purchase or rent options, rather than free to prime members. In fact, you are lucky if you see more than a couple free movies in any search. Netflix search is easily the most basic and limited of movie services - you can only search by movie title (if you can even remember it). Also, Netflix's suggestion engine is barely usable - often it suggests actor names for searches, but since it can't search by actors, if you select that as an option, you get no results. There is clearly a huge advantage for Amazon here.

Pick List

If you have used the Amazon or Netflix application available on Roku or via some other device (TV or disc player), you will notice the generation of various categories of films based on what you watch or other preselected categories that are static. Some examples of these include: Newly Added, Comedy, Thriller, Recently Watched, Watch Again, etc. To a new user, these categories are very useful. However their utility wears out quickly and then you are left to using search which depending on which service you have will do wonders for you or only further disappoint you. Netflix has some built in advantage here with its "instant queue" because through this, you can surf its website, find lots of interesting films, select them to add to your instant queue, and then when you later sit down at your TV, you can pull these up quickly without having to search for them. Amazon has a "watch list" that has a similar feature, but browsing for films on Amazon is not as slick as Netflix - Amazon's searching is better suited for buying products than searching for films so that aspect lacks. Also, Amazon's pick list isn't as slick as Netflix - requires a lot of clicking around to find the right category which is then ultimately limited.


Of all the items, this area seems to be the most limiting of these services. Clearly, Amazon has a much deeper library available, but since most are for purchase or rent, it is hard to compare that to an all you can eat service. So, if you compare Amazon prime with Netflix, you tend to see that Netflix has better content. The problem is, Netflix still forces you back to its website if you really want to find anything. Amazon's prime content often stagnates - as does Netflix - particularly with respect to what is displayed within the pick list - which in my opinion promotes the "impression" of the content stagnating - even if perhaps if the truth is it isn't stagnating.


If you are cheap, services like Crackle and PBS Kids easily offer the best value with little if any advertising (much less than cable channels or regular TV) and are free. For premium services, it is hard to beat the value of Amazon because the prime membership comes with "free" streaming for the yearly $75 fee - so you get more than just free movies, but also free 2 day shipping, etc. If using the web is a daily thing for you and you don't mind adding to your instant queue, then Netflix is still a good value too. Just not as convenient as the other services - however it does have perhaps the richest meta data about its library - much more than any other service provider. Having this meta data really does help people find good content to watch... now if only they could find a way to push that capability out to its applications so people didn't have to be turned back to its website...

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.