Television has been a central part of UK households for decades. However, recent changes have meant that our TV watching habits are significantly different to how they were previously. We now have more options than ever before, not only in terms of the providers and programs we watch – but in terms of the devices that connect us to our favourite programming. Streaming has changed the way we watch TV – and more and more of us are doing it. In 2018, subscriptions to streaming services overtook those to traditional Pay TV providers for the first time.
Tablets, laptops and smartphones can now be used on or offline to keep up with our favourite content, whether it be live sport, up-to-date episodes of our favourite series or classic films from days gone by. A big part of this has been due to the advent of streaming. The way in which it has captured an audience in the past few years is nothing short of astonishing.
Nowhere is this move towards streaming more apparent than in relation to the UK’s two biggest specialised streaming platforms: Netflix and Amazon TV. Both of these – with support from their US parent companies and international associates – have an extensive range of content which straddles a wide variety of genres and styles. But if you’re looking to stream, which one is right for you?
TV in the UK
Streaming has changed the way we watch television – few millennials will remember the experience of watching the clock tick down until our new episode of our favourite show. Now, the notion of ‘binge-watching’ our favourite programming has gone mainstream; the result of these changes has been shows that are created for streaming platforms. Writers, directors and producers are aware that their creations are likely to be watched over six-hour sessions under a blanket!
Who are Netflix and Amazon TV?
Netflix and Amazon Prime may have different back stories, but they represent two of the UK’s biggest and most important streaming services. It might sound odd to say it, but Netflix is the experienced provider of the two. Netflix is largely responsible for the popularity of the streaming phenomenon and it’s cultural cache. Netflix and chill anyone? Netflix’s ability to see a market opportunity with syndicating rights to existing and upcoming shows is single-handedly responsible for putting video shops out of business and killing off the weekly drama show. Not bad for a company which started out selling DVDs via the post, right?
Amazon – with their streaming arm known as Amazon Prime Video – is the new kid on the block, but have already begun to make waves. By offering an extensive library of content as well as a comprehensive on demand service, Amazon has built an excellent streaming platform. They’ve also paired it with their Amazon prime service, making it perfect for families, larger households or indeed anyone who likes to shop.
How do the numbers stack up?
A comparison of the number of subscribers shows that Netflix is far and away the most popular streaming provider in the UK. Current figures show that Netflix has just under 10 million – 9.7 million to be precise – subscribers across the UK. These numbers rival the 10 million who have subscribed to the UK’s market leader Sky, albeit with those subscriptions in the traditional Pay TV area rather than in streaming. Amazon has just over half of that number, with 4.9 million.
And while Netflix has a head start in the UK market – Netflix launched in the UK in 2012 while Amazon Prime has been available to UK subscribers since 2014 – Netflix is still outpacing Amazon in adding new users. Netflix added 2.2 million users in 2018, double the 1.1. million added by Amazon Prime. In 2018 they were both outpaced by Sky’s Now TV however, which added 3.45 million customers.
Both Netflix and Amazon Prime have an extensive array of content that would put your childhood video shop to shame. There is, however, a difference in the content offered by the two providers, both in terms of the amount on offer and the specific shows themselves. Netflix has 3,000 movies and shows – a number which might seem significant – however Amazon Prime boasts 18,000 films and 2,000 TV shows.
There is one caveat to keep in mind with Amazon, which is that much of this content is available on an ‘on demand’ basis, which means you’ll need to pay for the privilege. While the costs are usually quite low – and you’ll be given time to watch whenever you please – it can mean getting a bill at the end of the month that you weren’t expecting. For parents, there’s also the concern that kids will rack up a big bill.
Another difference between the two providers is the amount of original content on offer – although both are committed to doing more than just buying syndicated rights from other networks. Indeed, both are becoming increasingly important sources of original content. As reported by The Guardian, this upward trend is in direct contrast with the traditional UK sources of content. In 2018, BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 were spending on original content 28 percent less than in 2004, where original content production was at its peak.
Netflix has been the pioneer in this area, seeing it as a way to provide exclusive offerings alongside its syndicated content. As the company began to expand across the globe from 2012 to 2016, it either created, continued or remade a number of popular shows like House of Cards and Arrested Development. Recently Netflix’s Roma was nominated in ten categories including best picture at the Academy Awards, winning Best Director and two other Oscars. All in all, Netflix has been nominated for 15 Oscars for their original content. Other shows like Stranger Things, Orange is the New Black, Narcos and Bojack Horseman are just some examples of Netflix’s original stable. Amazon Prime has less original content than Netflix, although they’ve been catching up in recent years. Their original titles pack a real punch. Their shows include The Man in the High Castle, Mr Robot, Hand of God, Transparent, American Gods and the award-winning The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
Both Netflix and Amazon Prime boast an extensive library of syndicated content, which has been the backbone of their service since their inception. From movies to box sets, there’s little chance you’ll get bored with either – actually, the main struggle will be finding time to catch up on all your favourites. There are also some exclusive deals to know about if you have a particular show or set of shows in mind.
What’s in the box?
As any fan of UK TV knows, it’s not only which program you have access to – but the device which enables you to get there. The humble set top box has seen some significant development in recent years, with evolved functionality and improved capacity. Netflix and Amazon Prime are app-based, which means that they don’t themselves come with set-top boxes. Instead, they’ll frequently be included on the set-top box of your favourite provider to give you instant access. Their app functionality is also great for watching on the go on your smartphone, laptop or tablet.
Comparing Netflix and Amazon Prime is not an apples and apples comparison. This is mainly due to two things: Amazon’s significant on demand component, along with the associated perks you’ll receive from an Amazon Prime membership. Amazon also has a lot more on offer – but much of this is on demand content, meaning that you’ll be paying extra to watch it.
You can start using Netflix on a single device, but you can pay more for two devices and HD streaming support. The most expensive plan allows four devices and Ultra HD streaming.
If you already order a lot of stuff on Amazon online – or if you’re keen to start doing so – then a yearly Amazon Prime subscription is the best deal for you. Don’t want to be a Prime member? Then you can get yourself access to the content for a monthly fee – the same as the basic Netflix deal.
Can I dip my toe in?
Fortunately, both Netflix and Amazon Prime offer introductory deals which let you dip your toe in the water and try it out before making a financial commitment. Both come with a free 30-day trial so you can size them up and see if they’re right for you. Student? Then Amazon has a generous six-month free trial. While we don’t think that’s going to be great for your grades, it’s an excellent deal.
The Verdict: Which one is right for me?
Before you make a final decision, the most important thing to consider is just what you need from your provider. Weigh up your programming needs and those of your household, before seeing which one fits those the best. It could be as simple as which one has your favourite show – or the online shopping component of Amazon might tip you over the line. Obviously Amazon gives you access to much more content, although much of that is on demand. This can result in unexpected costs at the end of the month, which is of course something to weigh up. Either way, rest assured that both are great providers with the best content on offer.