Who wins the battle to be the best streaming subscription service - Netflix, Amazon or the newcomer from Sky, NowTV?
Netflix no longer has a monopoly on the subscription streaming TV market. Amazon has spent the past year pushing its Amazon Video service and more recently Sky has launched Now TV in a bid to grab a slice of the fast-growing ‘cord cutters’ market place. In this in-depth review, we look at all three streamers to decide which offers the best all-round service…
Now the big daddy of online streaming, Netflix started way back in 1997 as a subscription service offering DVDs through the post. It began streaming films and TV shows in 2008 in the US and brought the service to the UK in on 8 March 2012.
Earlier this year Netflix announced the final wave of its massive global expansion which – unbelievably – sees the network streaming content to every country in the world bar China, North Korea, Syria and Crimea. In 2015, those 75 million Netflix viewers watched a mind boggling 42.5 billion hours of streaming video, making it the biggest single consumer of internet bandwidth.
In recent years, increased competition and higher prices charged by studios have combined to deplete Netflix’s movie catalogue. The company has responded by spending heavily on original content such as House of Cards, Daredevil, Narcos and Orange is the New Black. The drive is paying off as Netflix notched up a whopping 34 nominations at the 2015 Emmy Awards.
While Amazon Video may have more global subscribers on paper, as it’s bundled with the Prime service, Netflix remains the streaming service to beat.
UK punters may wonder what happened to the DVD rental and video-on-demand service Love Film? It was bought by Amazon for a reputed £200 million in 2011 and became the foundation for its launch of Amazon Video (or Amazon Prime Video or even Amazon Instant Video) in the UK in 2014.
The service was controversially bundled with the Amazon Prime loyalty program – controversial because Amazon hiked the price from £49 to £79. Amazon Video’s revolving name reflected a lack of focus on the service in its early incarnation, but things have changed in recent months.
Amazon Video has become an early advocate of next-gen technology like Ultra HD and HDR video, even stealing a march on Netflix with the latter. It’s also followed Netflix by commissioning original content, to varying degrees of success – for every hit like Transparent, there have been damp squibs like Extant.
Amazon Video is now the only commercial streaming service to offer video downloads for offline viewing – similar to the BBC iPlayer – which gives it a real edge if you travel a lot. Just another indication that Amazon Video is emerging as a ferocious competitor to Netflix – just as you would expect from a brand like Amazon.
Netflix and Amazon Video form part of a trend known as ‘cord cutting’ which in the US refers to cutting the link with the expensive, annual contracts offered by monopolistic cable TV companies. In the UK, the nearest equivalent is Sky TV – and Now TV is its attempt to stem the loss of subscribers to the streaming services.
Now TV is essentially a pay-as-you-go version of Sky’s main entertainment, movie and sports channels. It allows you watch those channels ‘live’ or view video-on-demand from their current schedule of movies and TV shows.
Because of Sky TV’s impressive licensing deals with the big studios, Now TV gets to show blockbuster movies much earlier than either than either Amazon or Netflix. Films typically arrive on Now TV around 9 months after their cinema release. Sky’s exclusive deal with US TV giant HBO means that Now TV is the only place where you can stream shows like Game of Thrones or Boardwalk Empire.
Now TV is also aggressively promoting itself by bundling cut-price deals with subsidised set-top boxes, cutting the cost of entry to the service to as little as £14.99 including hardware.
So Now TV may be the smallest of the streaming TV contenders, but its aggressive tactics means it punches well above its weight