CBS is adding classic and syndicated TV shows to the Netflix Watch Instantly Streaming service. At the same time, select portions of Amazon’s streaming library (normally purchased or rented) have become free to Amazon Prime subscribers.
The CBS-Netflix deal marks the first time that the company has allowed its content on streaming subscription services. CBS is the only one of the big four American networks without a stake in Hulu – Fox, Disney (ABC) and NBC-Comcast all hold equal percentages of the online streaming service. Before now, all CBS Internet content was hosted on CBS.com and its various subsidiaries, with the exception of by-the-episode purchases from iTunes and Amazon.
The agreement between CBS and Netflix will last for two years and is non-exclusive, which isn’t surprising, since portions of the content have been available on CBS.com for some time. While it’s possible that CBS will add the shows to other streaming services, that doesn’t seem particularly likely. In any case, Netflix is probably happy for the addition, given the recent additions of Viacom content (Comedy Central and MTV) and the Criterion Collection to Hulu Plus.
In addition, Amazon is testing the waters of subscription-based online video. On Monday the retailer announced that selected movie and TV content from its Instant Video service would be made free for Amazon Prime subscribers. Prime is a sort of frequent shopper program for Amazon, allowing customers one year of free two-day shipping and discounts on selected items for a fee of $79.99 a year.
The library of free content isn’t large at the moment; the press release mentioned movies like the original Swedish version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Amadeus, and shows like Doctor Who (not the latest series) and Farscape. A quick look at the library reveals a lot of UK-centric shows like Torchwood and Top Gear, movies including Dirty Harry and Cool Hand Luke and a collection of Ken Burns documentaries – a lot of the stuff you’d find in a video store bargain bin. You won’t be seeing new episodes of CSI showing up any time soon, making the the service more of a value-add for Amazon Prime than a marketable competitor in its own right.
However, the move solidifies months of rumors that Amazon is preparing its own streaming service to compete with Netflix and Hulu. Amazon is a major player in digital media, with a music and video store that rivals Apple’s iTunes in terms of depth. They’ve got the hardware and know-how to pull it off as well – the Netflix streaming service operates off of Amazon’s corporate web servers. The consensus among many technology reporters is that Prime streaming is a trial run for a new subscription-based video service, possibly due in the next 8-12 months.