In streaming, orange was once the new black. Now, adverts are the new black. Or at least how streaming companies intend to stay in the black. Apparently, throwing wads of cash at a barrage of shows and hoping some stick doesn’t cut it when profits are vital rather than a nice-to-have. In this era of financial instability, even Jeff Bezos can’t afford to play another round of ‘beg the venture capitalists’. Hence the latest Amazon Prime update.
This isn’t ‘update’ as a synonym for ‘upgrade’, note. Instead, Amazon’s following the Netflix model. Some months back, that company unveiled an ‘update’ that would “deliver even more value for your membership”. By you paying even more money. Or choosing a cheaper tier with ads. Which is like deciding between whether you’d prefer to be poked in the eye or kicked in the shins. (Perhaps those will be Netflix’s next two tier options.)
Anyway: Amazon. It’s now jumped on the ‘update’ (bad kind) bandwagon, as I discovered via an email with the subject “An update on Amazon Prime”. Suitably braced, I read that from 5 February, “Prime Video movies and TV shows will include limited advertisements”. The company added it would “aim to have meaningfully fewer ads than ad-supported TV channels and other streaming TV providers”.
Depending on where you live, ‘aim’ could be doing heavy lifting. In the US, ads on some commercial TV networks are seemingly cut into shows approximately every 11 seconds. But in the UK, they average seven minutes per hour. Mind you, Amazon might instead aim and miss, because money. We can then look forward to Prime Video resembling a hyperactive version of YouTube when it comes to intrusive advertising.
But why? Amazon claimed adverts will help Prime to “continue investing in compelling content”. You know, like True Lies and Citadel. *Cough*. Generously, I was informed “no action is required from you” and the price of my Prime membership wouldn’t go up. Unless I didn’t want ads. In which case, that’d be an extra 36 quid per year.
The email, by this point seemingly aware readers were planning a revolt, rattled off a long list of Amazon Prime benefits, barely stopping short of “Free returns, in the event of you ordering a giant inflatable wasp while in a drunken haze at 3am.” My response: to bin my membership and see how I’ll fare without being able to order an obscure cable I’ll never use and have it arrive within 24 hours.
As noted, it’s not like Amazon’s alone here. Standard Netflix and Disney+ tiers have ads. Apple’s reportedly eyeing the same. But together, this feels like a final knife in the back of the streaming dream.
Years ago, it all felt exciting as Netflix became a one-stop-shop for endless ad-free TV shows and movies. But IP owners took back their toys and fragmented the industry. And now they’re freaking out about money and scrabbling to hit rewind more frantically than a first-time Jurassic Park viewer who can’t believe what just happened to the guy on the toilet.
In time, the word ‘update’ will trigger a Pavlovian terror response in any streaming media subscriber, as ‘updates’ draw on other old classics. Unskippable DVD-style intros (with embedded ads) on every show page. Having to hit rewind and experience a show (and ads) in reverse when you want to watch it again. Random, inexplicable gaps halfway through a movie to squeeze in the news. With ad breaks.
And yet streaming providers will act all surprised when everyone ‘updates’ their own habits by dusting off torrent apps. Not because they’re unwilling to pay. But because it’s the only way to watch anything without wasting time on things they don’t want to see.