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Is Amazon Prime Video worth its subscription price?

Scanty Canadian catalog and limited playback options add up to a sub-par service.

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Amazon Prime Video:

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After weeks of anticipation, Amazon Prime Video is officially live in 200 countries, including Canada. With its launch last week, a new home entertainment order is taking shape as Amazon and Netflix get set to duke it out for global streaming supremacy.

The battle will be one to watch – literally – as both companies spend billions on producing and acquiring original content. Netflix, which is available in 190 countries, has a big head start, while Amazon has a ways to go to catch up.

The natural question, then, is whether Amazon Prime Video is worth its subscription price right now, especially here in Canada?

Subscribers in most of the new countries can get standalone Prime Video for the introductory price of $2.99 (U.S.) or €2.99, and $5.99/€5.99 after.

Canadians, however, must sign up for Amazon’s expedited Prime shipping service for $79 (Canadian) a year. There’s no standalone option here, as in the U.S., where Prime Video can be had for $8.99 (U.S.).

The decision ultimately rests on three factors: content, experience and value.

Content:

Remember when Netflix first launched in Canada and was heavily criticized for both its lack of content and the low quality of the movies and shows it did have? Canadian Prime Video is actually worse.

The marquee attractions are Amazon’s own Emmy award-winning originals, including Transparent, Mozart in the Jungle and The Man in the High Castle. All told, there are seven series here that span a broad range of interests, from musical drama to sci-fi thriller.

Amazon has also pegged Prime Video’s expansion to the launch of The Grand Tour, a car show hosted by Top Gear personality Jeremy Clarkson. Even if you’re not into hard-core car porn, it’s a show that bears watching if only because of its incredibly high production values.

The opening scene of the first episode, for example, is reportedly the most expensive ever created.

Beyond that, the pickings are really, really slim. There are but a handful of non-original TV shows, including Justified and Community, which seems to come default with every streaming service, and a spattering of remainder-bin movies that include The Mummy, Grease and much of Eddie Murphy’s oeuvre.

If it’s new releases you’re looking for, you’re not going to find them here.

All told, Prime Video’s Canadian catalog is incredibly sparse. It’s understandable that Amazon chose not to offer it as a standalone service here – it’d be highly unlikely to attract many subscribers on its own.

Experience:

One of the big advantages Netflix has over all of its streaming competitors is its ubiquity – it has viewing apps for basically every device under the sun. That ubiquity makes it easy for people to sign up and watch. Competitors have to rapidly match that availability if they want to have any hope of getting traction.

Here too, Amazon Prime Video is greatly constrained, at least in Canada. The service can of course be viewed via web browser and therefore on a larger TV screen with the proper connections, or through iOS and Android apps.

The iOS app features AirPlay, so content can be beamed and viewed via an Apple TV, but the Android app has no comparable Chromecast functionality.

Amazon also says it offers apps for some LG and Samsung smart TVs, although I wasn’t able to find one for my Samsung display.

That’s about it for now – no video game consoles or other devices, with the exception of Amazon’s own Fire tablets, sticks and set-top boxes, which aren’t yet officially available in Canada.

Needless to say, it isn’t easy to watch Prime Video if you aren’t already equipped with the small subset of devices or options that it’s compatible with. At this point, even Bell’s CraveTV is far more available with apps for a range of devices.

Value:

At $79 a year in Canada, Amazon Prime breaks down to about $6.60 a month for those who might be interested in just the video service. Compared to Netflix’s standard $9.99 plan or even CraveTV at $7.99, it’s probably not worth it.

The skimpy catalog and limited playback options are a far cry behind both competitors, so this is not a streaming service that many people will want just for the sake of it.

Of course, Amazon is positioning video as a hook to its Prime shipping service and on that front it’s an entirely different value proposition.

Independent reports suggest Prime subscribers spend twice as much with Amazon as non-members, which means the video service pays dividends to the company quite quickly. Amazon can afford to offer it as a throw-in, which is exactly what it’s doing.

I’ve been a Prime subscriber (and fan) for a year now and can attest to those spending figures. With faster shipping – orders usually arrive within two days – I’m buying a lot more on Amazon than I did before. The video service, while not necessary, is a welcome bonus.

Any decisions on whether or not to subscribe to Prime Video thus come from an entirely unique place. It’s not so much about whether you want access to the video content, but whether you intend to spend more of your shopping dollars with Amazon.

If it’s a shift you’re prepared to make, than Prime is for you. If the answer is no, it’s probably wise to wait and see whether Amazon can beef its service up to the point where it is comparable with Netflix and CraveTV.

It’ll probably be apparent when that happens, as Amazon may decide to offer it as a standalone service, as it does down south.

Until then, Prime Video isn’t really a service that anyone needs. It’s all still all about the shopping, with video a nice thrown-in freebie.

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