I subscribed to Lovefilm around ten years ago as video rental shops started to die out. Somewhere along the way they became part of the Amazon juggernaut. The result, they have messed around with the service and pricing, but the ultimate benefit to the customer, the service now includes Amazon Prime Video. I have recently also subscribed to Netflix and thought I would take the opportunity to compare the two. I must admit that I was thinking of dropping Amazon in favour of Netflix but two things have kept me for now. Firstly; The Grand Tour, the new program from the former Top Gear Team. Secondly and possible most significantly for now, the ability to download content to watch offline.
The first issue doesn’t just rest with The Grand Tour, it is exclusive programming in general. The two platforms have their own programs that they have either commissioned or have exclusive rights to. How appealing these shows are is very much personal choice, but the Netflix highlights include House of Cards and the MCU shows: MCU Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. While Amazon boasts: Bosch, The Man in the High Castle and the aforementioned The Grand Tour. Both have a reasonable selection of films, both old and new, Netfix appears to have the greater choice. Amazon however offers a further complication. It offers many films and TV shows outside its “prime” membership that are paid for on a rental basis. Netfix on the other hand is transparent, all content is available within your monthly subscription.
Searching and Streaming
Netflix has a an idiot proof format with hundreds of recommendations based on previously viewed content. It also has a simple search function that if the film show you request isn’t available it suggests alternatives. Amazon has a similar if less fluid system. Both the home page and the search function mix prime and premium content. Searching for a particular movie or program is poor and can be infuriating, it is often simpler to find what you want in IMDb and follow the link. The streaming experience is similar, both offer standard and high definition. On standard definition Netfix has the edge with slightly better picture quality and a smother image stream. Amazon, can occasionally be a little jerky, less sharp and is more prone to buffering, I am yet to see Netfix buffer even with a week wifi signal or poor bandwidth. Amazon does have one useful feature; if you move your mouse while watching content, the right-hand side of the screen gives a link to the IMDb page of the actors and music in the scene.
Offline and Mobile
Amazon really has the edge here. I still get the Lovefilm DVD rentals that Netfix don’t offer. Both services have an app for mobile devices, both are very good but Amazon has the option to download content to watch offline. This is important to me at the moment as I will be going on holiday next month and find flying extremely tedious. The two hour SAS flight between Manchester and Oslo is shall we say, no frills. Without the luxury of in flight entertainment I rely on whatever I can download to my tablet. The flight time is perfect for a 90 minute movie or a couple of episodes of a TV program. Netfix has previously given very week excuses for the lack of offline options. It can’t be cost as this will be already be factored into licensing deals. Infrastructure shouldn’t be a problem, not only does Amazon offer the ability but so does the BBC iplayer. Whatever their reasons they will be commercial in some way. They may be having a change of direction though, earlier this year CEO Reed Hastings stated: “We’re open-minded about it [offline viewing] as we’ve expanded globally”. It is also worth mentioning that there are unofficial apps available allowing you to download Netflix content, I have never looked into them or the legality of their use.
Netflix offers a greater user experience but Amazon offers a few important extras. I am sticking with both providers for the moment. If Netflix do start offer an offline option Amazon will only keep my business by keeping its content fresh and interesting. On the other hand, if Netflix doesn’t move with the times they could also see me voting with my feet. Only time will tell.