5 reasons Amazon Prime Video is good news for Canadians

As a foreign outsider that’s unaffiliated with any telecom company, it’s a breath of fresh air.

transparent, shomi, shomi opening up

Amazon Prime Video:

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The official launch of Amazon Prime Video is just days away, if Bell Canada is to believed.

Amazon itself still isn’t commenting, but Bell Media president Mary Ann Turcke told a CRTC hearing on Tuesday that Dec. 1 is the day.

If true, Amazon’s official expansion – which is also likely happening around the globe – will coincide with the shutdown of Shomi, the streaming partnership from Rogers and Shaw. One door closes, another opens, as they say.

Absent any official statements from Amazon, there are still a bundle of questions about Prime Video. They include:

  • Will it be available on a standalone basis, as it is in the United States, or will Canadians also have to subscribe to Amazon’s Prime shipping service to get it?
  • In that case, will the cost of Prime shipping go up in Canada? The service costs $99 (U.S.) a year in the United States, but only $79 (Canadian) in Canada.
  • When will the streaming service’s apps become available? It’s possible to watch some of Amazon’s content already via web browser through its U.S. or U.K. stores, but the Android and iOS apps that make for easier viewing aren’t yet.
  • And just how much of the content will be available in Canada? Shomi held rights to some of the service’s top shows, including Transparent and Mozart in the Jungle, so will those revert to Amazon at launch or will Canadians have to wait?

On that last point, it looks like some of Shomi’s content is already being picked up elsewhere. Netflix Canada, for example, has scooped up Jane the Virgin, one of Shomi’s most-promoted shows:

Despite all the questions, there are a few certainties regarding Amazon Prime Video. There are also several reasons why the impending expansion is good news for Canadians.

It’s not going to suck.

Let’s face it: Shomi and Bell’s CraveTV are (or were) bare-bones streaming services. If their interfaces are anything to go by, they were cobbled together with minimal effort and, judging by the lack of improvements over the past two years, they’re still afterthoughts to their owners.

Amazon Prime Video, on the other hand, has made strides. The company has closed the gap with Netflix over the past two years in terms of U.S. customers who are “very satisfied,” to the point where the duo are now neck and neck at 59 per cent.

Much of that can be attributed to Amazon’s investments in quality original programming – an estimated $2 billion (U.S.) this year – interfaces and usability. In a nutshell, Amazon Prime Video is much better today than when it launched a few years ago. Shomi and CraveTV, not so much.

Video makes Prime more valuable.

It’ll be curious to see how Amazon prices Prime with video included. If the company were to simply make the Canadian price consistent with the U.S., it would cost nearly $135 a year here.

A straight currency conversion seems unlikely, though, since American Prime still delivers more bang for the buck than the Canadian version. American subscribers get everything Canadians do, plus same-day delivery, music streaming and ebook and family deals.

A good guess would be that Amazon bumps Canadian Prime – with video – up to $89 (Canadian) a year.

It can still be a great deal at that price for subscribers who buy lots of stuff from Amazon, which is entirely the point. Prime subscribers in the U.S. reportedly spend more than double on Amazon than non-members.

A small price increase for video streaming would be easily swallowed by many Canadian subscribers and would make Prime as a whole more desirable to those customers who haven’t signed up yet.

More Amazon products.

Having video in Canada also makes it more likely that Amazon will provide better access to its own hardware products, including the Fire tablet, Fire streaming stick and Echo voice-control speakers.

Canadians can purchase these devices today, but mainly through the U.S. site or by jumping through other hoops, including third-party vendors. Along with apps for viewing the video content, Amazon is likely to promote hardware products that do the same.

Amazon has a good reputation.

The Seattle-based online retailer consistently gets among the highest scores for customer service. Telecom companies, not so much.

Indeed, if anybody hates Amazon, it’s not customers but rather investors. Despite more than 20 years of operation, the company has yet to report a meaningful profit.

Chief executive Jeff Bezos has so far prioritized continually building Amazon for the future, focusing on customer service while eschewing immediate profits. Low prices, good service and happy customers are the result.

Whether they will articulate it or not, Canadians are likely to view Amazon Prime Video as the same sort of breath of fresh air as they do Netflix. The service will be coming from a company they haven’t had years of bad experiences with, unlike their cable providers, which counts for a lot.

It won’t fold any time soon.

CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais recently criticized Rogers and Shaw for shutting down Shomi after only two years. While he was off-base in some regards, he was also right in that the companies didn’t give it enough of a chance to succeed.

The companies also made big mistakes with Shomi, such as initially launching it only to their own TV and internet subscribers, and then by giving away long-term subscriptions for free to those same customers.

Given Bezos’s almost pathological long-term steadfastness, it’s a good bet that Amazon Prime Video will get much more of a chance to grow and succeed than Shomi ever did.

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