Netflix to release 41 original Indian shows and movies this year

Netflix said on Wednesday it will roll out 41 Indian films and shows this year, its biggest annual roster of Indian content to date, as the American giant makes further push to win subscribers in the world’s second largest internet market.

The streaming giant, which committed to spending about $420 million on locally produced Indian content in 2019 and 2020, is this year spending significantly more on the new Indian catalog, which is three times larger than the past two years combined.

The new titles feature high-profile Indian actors and directors including Madhuri Dixit, Karan Johar, Manoj Bajpayee, R. Madhavan, Raveena Tandon, Neena Gupta, and Dhanush.

The new roster includes “Bombay Begums,” which follows stories of five women across generations wrestling with desire, ethics, and personal crises, “Decoupled,” a comedy by writer Manu Joseph on India and marriage, and a second season of Emmy-winning drama “Delhi Crime.”

Also in the list are comedy specials that have become immensely popular on streaming services in India. Netflix said comedians including Sumukhi Suresh, Aakaash Gupta, Rahul Dua, and Prashasti Singh — all of whom have participated in comedy shows by Amazon Prime Video — will have shows on the streaming service this year.

Kota Factory, a show that debuted on YouTube about a group of students preparing to compete to get into the prestigious engineering colleges, will premier its second season on Netflix. The Viral Fever, the producer of the show, had collaborated with Indian edtech startup Unacademy, for the first season of the show.

Dice Media’s “Little Things”, which also began its life as native advertisement for a few firms but has since grown into its own show, is getting a fourth season this year.

“Our upcoming lineup features more variety and diversity than we have seen before. From the biggest films and series, to gripping documentaries and reality, and bold comedy formats. We are taking our next big leap in India to bring you more than 40 powerful and irresistible stories from all corners of the country,” said Monika Shergill, Vice President of Content at Netflix India.

“This is just a taste of the films and series to come. We are so excited to share these rich and diverse stories from the best and brightest creators and talent from India to the world,” said Shergill.

R. Madhavan and Surveen Chawla in a still from Netflix’s upcoming show “Decoupled.” (Netflix)

Netflix’s growing catalog in India comes as Bollywood, which churns out more movies than any other film industry, struggles to deliver big hits as theatres across the country report low footfall amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Last year, the Indian film industry began releasing several movies directly on streaming services after some pushback from several key players.

Karan Johar said at Netflix’s virtual press conference that streaming services are increasingly reaching the level of scale in India that the next “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai” — one of the biggest blockbuster films in India, and also one directed by Johar — can release directly on Netflix.

Thanks to the availability of some of the world’s cheapest mobile data and proliferation of low-cost Android smartphones, more than half a billion Indians came online in the past decade, much of it in the last five years.

YouTube reaches more than 450 million internet users in India, TechCrunch reported in January. (India’s IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad corroborated the figure at a press conference last month.) Disney’s Hotstar has amassed over 30 million paying subscribers in India. Media consulting firm MPA estimates that Netflix has about 5 million subscribers in India, a figure that has grown in recent years as the streaming service inked a deal with India’s largest telecom operator Jio Platforms.

Netflix’s growing focus on India also comes at a time when New Delhi is getting more involved with the nature of content on on-demand streaming services. Until now Amazon Prime Video and other streaming services have operated in India without having to worry too much about the nature of their content. But that’s changing, according to new rules announced by India last week.

“The category classification of a content will take into account the potentially offensive impact of a film on matters such as caste, race, gender, religion, disability or sexuality that may arise in a wide range of works, and the classification decision will take account of the strength or impact of their inclusion,” the new rules state.

Amazon issued a rare apology to viewers in India on Tuesday after some people — including lawmakers with governing Bhartiya Janata Party — objected to some scenes from its political mini-series “Tandav.” Netflix, itself, has faced some heat, too. A police case was filed against two top executives of Netflix, including Shergill, after some people objected to scenes of the show “A Suitable Boy.”

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Amazon issues rare apology in India over drama series

Amazon on Tuesday issued a rare apology to users in India for an original political drama series over allegations that a few scenes in the nine-part mini series hurt religious sentiments of some people in the key overseas market.

The series, called “Tandav,” has faced criticism from some people in India — including a few members of the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party — over its depiction of Hindu gods and goddesses.

In a message titled, “Amazon Prime Video Apologizes,” the American e-commerce group said it “deeply regrets that viewers considered certain scenes to be objectionable” and that it had either edited those scenes or removed them altogether from the show after hearing concerns from viewers.

“We respect our viewers’ diverse beliefs and apologize unconditionally to anyone who felt hurt by these scenes. Our teams follow company content evaluation processes, which we acknowledge need to be constantly updated to better serve our audiences. We will continue to develop entertaining content with partners, while complying with the laws of India and respecting the diversity of culture and beliefs of our audiences.”

The show, which stars several top Bollywood actors including Saif Ali Khan, premiered in mid-January and immediately prompted controversy and criminal complaints. Things have escalated in recent weeks as several high-profile executives of Amazon Prime Video have been questioned by the authority.

Prime Video has amassed millions of subscribers in India, where it competes with Disney’s Hotstar, Netflix, Times Internet’s MX Player, and dozens more streaming services. Amazon has grown more aggressive with Prime Video in India in recent months. It recently introduced an even cheaper subscription tier and secured rights for streaming some cricket matches.

Amazon’s rare apology today comes days after New Delhi announced new rules for on-demand video streaming services and social media firms.

Until now Amazon Prime Video and other streaming services have operated in India without having to worry too much about the nature of their content. But that’s changing, according to the new rules.

“The category classification of a content will take into account the potentially offensive impact of a film on matters such as caste, race, gender, religion, disability or sexuality that may arise in a wide range of works, and the classification decision will take account of the strength or impact of their inclusion,” the new rules state.

As we wrote recently, the controversy surrounding the political drama and the new rules from India for streaming services are only few of the challenges that Amazon is facing in India, where it has committed to deploy over $6.5 billion.

Last month, an influential India trader group that represents tens of millions of brick-and-mortar retailers called New Delhi to ban Amazon in the country after an investigation by Reuters claimed that the American e-commerce group had given preferential treatment to a small group of sellers in India, publicly misrepresented its ties with those sellers and used them to circumvent foreign investment rules in the country.

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Forget winning, can Amazon survive in India?

During a visit to India in 2014, Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos made a splashy announcement: His firm was investing $2 billion in the South Asian nation, just a year after beginning operations in the country.

Amazon’s announcement underscored how far India had come to open up to foreign firms. The nation, which had largely kept doors shut to international giants between its independence in 1947 to liberalization in 1991, has slowly transformed itself into the world’s largest open market.

In a televised interview in 2014, Bezos said that there was a perception about India not being an easy place to do business. But Amazon’s growth in the country, he said, was proof that this belief is not accurate.

“Are there obstacles? There are always obstacles. Anywhere you go, every country has its own regulations and rules,” he said.

Six years, and more than $4.5 billion of additional investments later, Amazon today appears to be facing more obstacles than ever in India, the second-largest internet market with more than 600 million users.

Long-standing laws in India have constrained Amazon, which has yet to turn a profit in the country, and other e-commerce firms to not hold inventory or sell items directly to consumers. To bypass this, firms have operated through a maze of joint ventures with local companies that operate as inventory-holding firms.

India got around to fixing this loophole in late 2018 in a move that was widely seen as the biggest blowback to the American firm in the country at the time. Amazon and Walmart-owned Flipkart scrambled to delist hundreds of thousands of items from their stores and made their investments in affiliated firms way more indirect.

Now the nation is set to further toughen this approach. Reuters reported last week that New Delhi is considering making adjustments to some provisions that would prevent affiliated firms to hold even an indirect stake in a seller through their parent.

The Confederation of All India Traders, an Indian trade body that claims to represent over 80 million businesses, told the publication that Indian Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal has assured the organization that it is working to shortly address concerns about alleged violations of current rules.

The forthcoming policy change is only one of the many headaches for the world’s largest e-commerce firm in India.

Offline retailers in India have long expressed concerns about what they allege to be unfair practices employed by Amazon in India. Last year, during Bezos’ visit to the country, they held several protests. (Photo by SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP via Getty Images)

Amazon is aggressively fighting a battle to block a deal between its estranged partner Future Group and Reliance Retail, the two largest retail chains in India.

Last year, Future Group announced that it would sell its retail, wholesale, logistics and warehousing businesses to Reliance Retail for $3.4 billion. Amazon, which in 2019 bought stakes in one of Future Group’s unlisted firms, says that the Indian firm has breached its contract (which would have given Amazon the right to first refusal) and engaged in insider trading.

Despite technology giants and investors ploughing more than $20 billion to create an e-commerce market in India in the past decade, online retail still accounts for only a single-digit pie of all retail in the country.

In recent years, Amazon, Walmart and scores of other startups have embraced this realization and sought to work with neighborhood stores that dot tens of thousands of cities, towns and villages in India.

With Reliance Retail and telecom giant Jio Platforms, two subsidiaries of one of India’s largest corporates (Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries) entering the e-commerce market, and receiving the backing of global giants including Facebook and Google last year, cornering a big stake in Future Group is one of the few ways Amazon can accelerate its growth in India.

The American e-commerce firm has had little luck so far in overturning the deal between the Indian firms. Last year, Amazon reached out to Indian antitrust body Competition Commission of India, and market regulator SEBI to block this transaction. Both the bodies have ruled in favor of Future Group and Reliance Retail.

Amazon must have foreseen this outcome because it initiated the legal proceedings at an arbitration court in Singapore. It’s no surprise that the firm chose to also pursue its legal argument outside of India.

Most cases that reach the Singapore International Arbitration Court have come from India in recent years. Vodafone, which has invested more than $20 billion in India, and has been dealt with billions of dollars in unpaid taxes by the country, is another high-profile name to have knocked on the door in Singapore. After losing in India, it emerged victorious in the Singapore arbitration court last year.

Amazon on Monday filed a new petition in Delhi High Court in which it is seeking to enforce SIAC’s ruling (which ordered last year that the deal should be temporarily halted) and prevent the Indian firm from going ahead with the deal based on CCI and SEBI’s judgements.

The company alleges that Future Group “deliberately and maliciously” disobeyed the international arbitration ruling from SIAC. In its petition, Amazon is also seeking detention of Kishore Biyani, the founder and chairman of Future Group.

“Vocal for Local”

As India grappled with containing the spread of the coronavirus last year, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged the 1.3 billion citizens to make the country “self-reliant” and “be vocal for local.”

The move to turn inwards contrasts with his major promise in the first few years of assuming power in 2014 when he pledged to make India more welcoming to foreign firms than before. In recent years, India has proposed or enforced several regulations that hurt American firms, though none appear to suffer as much as Amazon.

Last year, New Delhi started to enforce a 2% tax on all foreign billings for digital services provided in the country. The U.S. Trade Representative said earlier this month that India was taxing numerous categories of digital services that are “not leviable under other digital services taxes adopted around the world.”

The aggregate tax bill for U.S. companies could exceed $30 million per year in India, USTR’s investigation found. In conclusion, it found India’s digital tax move to be inconsistent with international tax principles, unreasonable and burdening or restricting U.S. commerce.

Modi’s new way of life for India will be music to the ears of Mukesh Ambani, the chairman of Reliance Industries, an ally of the prime minister and India’s richest man.

Before selling stakes worth over $20 billion in Jio Platforms and more than $6 billion in Reliance Retail to marquee foreign investors, Ambani famously made a speech in 2019 in which he urged the need to protect Indians’ data in patriotic terms.

“We have to collectively launch a new movement against data colonization. For India to succeed in this data-driven revolution, we will have to migrate the control and ownership of Indian data back to India — in other words, Indian wealth back to every Indian,” he said.

Why so many international firms have invested in one of Reliance’s properties remains a big question. A senior executive at an American firm told TechCrunch on the condition of anonymity (out of fear of retribution) that the investments in Jio Platforms, which is India’s largest telecom network with nearly 410 million subscribers, and Reliance Retail is a déjà vu moment for the nation, where a few decades ago one of the only ways to do business in the nation was to partner with a local firm with massive political clout.

In a series of tweets, Raman Chima, a former policy executive at Google and who now works at nonprofit digital advocacy group Access Now, alleged that the Android-maker had weighed in 2011-12 partnering and investing in a firm like Reliance to “turn-the-page on Indian political risks.”

The idea prompted concerns about Google’s values, he claimed. “More than one executive involved in those discussions flagged concerns around Reliance’s reputation, particularly around problematic approaches towards gaining influence with policymaking civil servants and politicians, money, ethics in govt-business relationships.”

Amazon itself was rumored to be interested in getting a multi-billion-dollar stake in Reliance Retail last year, but it appears the two firms have stopped engaging on any matter.

BJP MLA Ram Kadam and his party workers protest against the Amazon Prime web series Tandav outside Bandra-Kurla Police station, on January 18, 2021 in Mumbai, India. (Photo by Pratik Chorge/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

While Amazon sorts out these issues, last week delivered another blow to the firm. A senior executive with the firm as well as Indian makers of a mini-series for Amazon Prime Video are under threat of criminal prosecution in the country after Modi’s ruling party deemed the show offensive to the country’s Hindu majority.

A Hindu nationalist group, politicians with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, and a BJP group representing members of India’s lower castes, were among those who had filed police reports against the nine-part mini-series “Tandav” and Amazon. The company bowed to the pressure and edited out some scenes.

“The true reason for the complaints against ‘Tandav’ may be that the show holds up a mirror uncomfortably close to Indian society and some of the problems blamed on Mr. Modi’s administration. In the opening episode, the show features protesting students and disgruntled farmers, echoing events that have taken place in recent months,” The New York Times wrote.

“Mirzapur,” another show of Amazon, also attracted a criminal complaint in India last week for hurting religious and regional sentiments and defaming the Indian town. The Indian Supreme Court has issued notices to the makers of “Mirzapur” and has sought responses.

In the aforementioned interview, Bezos said Amazon’s job was to follow all the unique rules various countries require it to comply with and “adapt our business practice to those rules.”

In India, the company is increasingly being asked how far it is willing to adapt its business practice. How far is it willing to bend that it’s no longer the Amazon people cared for.

#amazon, #amazon-india, #amazon-prime-video, #apps, #asia, #ecommerce, #entertainment, #flipkart, #government, #india, #jio-platforms, #reliance-industries, #reliance-jio, #reliance-retail, #walmart

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Amazon launches mobile-only Prime Video subscription in India

Amazon is doubling down on one of the biggest strengths of Prime Video streaming service: Aggressive pricing.

The e-commerce giant on Wednesday announced Prime Video Mobile Edition, an even more affordable tier of the on-demand video streaming service — now also bundling additional perks.

Prime Video Mobile Edition, for which Amazon has partnered with Indian telecom network Airtel, will feature 28-day mobile-only, single-user, standard definition (SD) access to customers in India for Rs 89 ($1.22). This tier will also include 6GB of mobile data that customers can consume during the subscription period. To anyone who subscribes to Prime Video Mobile Edition, Amazon says it will pick the tab for the first month.

Amazon Prime subscription costs $1.7 a month in India and includes access to Prime Video and Prime Music.

The new Prime Video plan is currently only available in India. Its launch comes two years after Netflix unveiled a similar plan in India.

“India is one of our fastest growing territories in the world with very high engagement rates. Buoyed by this response, we want to double-down by offering our much-loved entertainment content to an even larger base of Indian customers. Given high mobile broadband penetration in the country, the mobile phone has become one of the most widely used streaming devices,” said Jay Marine, Vice President, Amazon Prime Video Worldwide, in a statement.

Airtel is the first roll-out partner for Prime Video Mobile Edition, and it suggested that it may tie up with other telecom giants as it looks forward to “expanding the reach of our service to the entire pre-paid customer base in India,” said Sameer Batra, Director, Mobile Business Development at Amazon. No word on when or whether Amazon plans to extend Prime Video Mobile Edition outside of India.

More to follow…

#amazon, #amazon-prime-video, #apps, #asia, #disney, #hotstar, #media, #mobile, #netflix, #prime-video

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Best Comedy of 2020

Comedians like Leslie Jones, Chelsea Handler and Hannibal Buress adjusted to the new abnormal, turning to Zoom, YouTube, rooftops and parks.

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The Expanse S5 review: The show is bigger, bolder, and better than ever

Space is mind-bogglingly big... but what happens there may not stay there.

Enlarge / Space is mind-bogglingly big… but what happens there may not stay there.

The science fiction space opera is by now a well-known genre, and yet somehow The Expanse is hard to describe. Let me try to sum it up at its most basic: The Expanse is a show about space. It is a show about society, about resources, about people with passions and problems and desires and—most especially—about what happens when all those things collide.

It is also, in a word, excellent. The Expanse‘s fifth season is the best since its first, a long-awaited high-stakes payoff to several seasons’ worth of setup. If you drifted away from the show during earlier seasons, like something accidentally dropped in microgravity, this new season makes it worth finding a way to come back.

The setup

For the first few seasons, The Expanse was concerned entirely with our own solar system. In its vision of the 24th century, we have fairly widespread access to spacefaring technology, just all at sublight speeds. The moons of Jupiter and Saturn might be accessible, but not so much the stars beyond.

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India’s broadcasting ministry secures power to regulate streaming services, online content

India’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, which oversees programs beamed on television and theatres in the country, will now also regulate policies for streaming platforms and digital news outlets in a move that is widely believed to kickstart an era of more frequent and stricter censorship on what online services air.

The new rules (PDF), signed by India’s President Ram Nath Kovind this week, might end the years-long efforts by digital firms to self-regulate their own content to avoid the broader oversight that impacts television channels and theatres and whose programs appeared on those platforms. (Streaming platforms may be permitted to continue to self-regulate and report to I&B, similar to how TV channels follow a programming code and their self-regulatory body works with I&B. But there is no clarity on this currently.)

For instance, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting currently certifies what movies hit the theatres in the country and the scenes they need to clip or alter to receive those certifications. But movies and shows appearing on services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video did not require a certification and had wider tolerance for sensitive subjects.

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has previously also ordered local television channels to not air sensitive documentaries.

India’s Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology previously oversaw online streaming services, but it did not enforce any major changes. The ministry also oversees platforms where videos are populated by users.

Officials of India’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting have previously argued that with proliferation of online platforms in India — there are about 600 million internet users in the country — there needs to be parity between regulations on them and traditional media sources.

“There is definitely a need for a level playing field for all media. But that doesn’t mean we will bring everybody under a heavy regulatory structure. Our government has been focused on ease of doing business and less regulation, but more effective regulation,” said Amit Khare, Secretary of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, earlier this year.

The move by the world’s second largest internet market is bound to make players like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney’s Hotstar, Times Internet’s MX Player, and dozens of other streaming services and web-based news outlets more cautious about what all they choose to stream and publish on their platforms, an executive with one of the top streaming services told TechCrunch, requesting anonymity.

Netflix, which has poured over half a billion dollars in its India business, declined to comment.

Digital news outlets and platforms that cover “current affairs” will now also be overseen by India’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Over the years, the Indian government has pressured advertisers and indulged in other practices to shape what several news channels show to their audiences.

Information and Broadcasting minister Prakash Javdekar is expected to address this week’s announcement in an hour. We will update the story with additional details.

#amazon-prime-video, #apps, #asia, #government, #hotstar, #india, #media, #mx-player, #netflix

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Netflix’s latest effort to make inroads in India: Support for Hindi

Only about 10% of India’s 1.3 billion people know English. Yet, scores of firms operating in the country offer their services only in English. Netflix, one such company, said on Friday it’s aiming to break through the language barrier.

The American on-demand video streaming giant today rolled out support for Hindi, a language spoken by nearly half a billion people in India, across its platform. From the sign up page to search rows, to collections, synopsis and payment, Hindi language is now baked in across the platform, the company said.

“Delivering a great Netflix experience is as important to us as creating great content. We believe the new user interface will make Netflix even more accessible and better suit members who prefer Hindi,” said Monika Shergill, VP-Content at Netflix India, in a statement.

Netflix’s global competitors, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+ Hotstar also support Hindi language, though the latter has deployed Hindi in limited capacity (not for a movie or show’s synopsis, for instance).

The focus on Hindi illustrates the level of traction Netflix believes it has received in India. Most international firms tend to localize their services in India after they have fully tapped the population in urban cities across the country where English is a common language.

More to follow…

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Amazon Prime Video will finally offer one of Netflix’s most basic features

Amazon Prime Video on an iPad Pro.

Enlarge / Amazon Prime Video on an iPad Pro.

At long last, Amazon Prime Video is catching up to competitors like Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+ with a key feature: user profiles. The feature is rolling out in the mobile and set-top box versions of the Prime Video app starting today.

The feature allows multiple people sharing an Amazon Prime subscription to maintain separate watch histories and watch lists. Additionally, Amazon has made a distinction between user profiles for kids and profiles for adults, with different rules. Users can configure up to six profiles in any mix of children’s and adults’ profiles. All this is rolling out starting today, but it won’t reach all users right away.

According to TechCrunch, multiple user profiles were supported in India and Africa previously, and they are only now making their way to the rest of the world, including the United States. The rollout brings Amazon closer to feature parity with Netflix and other big streaming players. The majority of major apps in this space offered this feature, but there are some outliers—like CBS All Access.

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Amazon Prime Video finally launches user profiles to all customers worldwide

Amazon’s Prime Video is finally adding a feature that’s long since become a standard for streaming video services: user profiles. With profiles, Prime Video users will have access to their own Watchlist, personalized recommendations, and they’ll be able to track their own viewing progress, similar to rival services, like Netflix.

Customers can create up to 6 profiles for their household members, including 1 primary profile associated with the Amazon account, plus 5 additional profiles, which can be a mix of adult and kids’ profiles.

The new profiles will be first available in the Prime Video app on iOS, Android, Fire tablet (Gen 10 and higher), and the Fire TV Prime Video app, in addition to the Prime Video apps built for other living room devices.

Prime Video profiles were spotted earlier this year by NDTV, which led to some erroneous reporting that the feature had officially launched to all. In actuality, Amazon first rolled out profiles to its customers in India and Africa. It’s now making it accessible to all worldwide, including the U.S.

Image Credits: Amazon

For any profile set as a “Kids” profile, the service will only include age-appropriate content aimed at those 12 years old or younger. The search results and search suggestions will also be filtered to only show Kids titles. Children with a Kids profile won’t be able to make purchases, either.

Meanwhile, any adult profile will be able to play all the entitled Prime Video content form the primary account, including content that has been purchased or rented, Prime Video titles, Prime Video Channels, and Live content.

However, if the adult wants to set up parental controls on their account so this content is not accessible on a shared device, like the living room TV, they can do so. In this case, viewing restrictions will be enabled but parents can enter a PIN code to access the content, as they can now.

Parents can also continue to block children from making purchases from an adult profile by enabling Purchase Restrictions under Prime Video Settings, which will also require a PIN to complete the transaction.

The one exception to how child profiles work is on mobile devices. The Prime Video app will allow a child profile to access the adult profile’s downloads on mobile — a decision Amazon made because it didn’t want to restrict access to downloads if the device was taken offline, making it impossible to profile switch.

In addition, for customers that have set up wallet-sharing in their Amazon Household settings, Prime Video will automatically create profiles for those users. This can be disabled from the Manage your profiles page, but once profile sharing is off, it can’t be re-enabled.

The lack of user profiles have been, to date, one of the bigger oversights with Amazon’s Prime Video streaming service, first launched in 2011, and a much-requested feature for years. Today, streaming services don’t just compete on their content library but on how well they can surface the titles from that library by way of personalized recommendations and other tools that keep a user’s favorites and interests easily accessible. But Prime Video ignored this need, forcing all members of a household to share a single account. That choice told customers that even Amazon itself didn’t consider Prime Video a true competitor to other top services, like Netflix, Hulu and Disney+.

It’s finally correcting this matter, but only as the streaming market crowds with new offerings, like recently launched HBO Max and NBCU’s forthcoming Peacock, for example.

Amazon cautions that user profiles are being launched today, but not everyone will see them immediately. The feature is rolling out in phases, so you may see them arrive in a few days’ time, if not today.

#amazon, #amazon-prime-video, #cord-cutting, #media, #prime, #prime-video, #streaming, #streaming-service

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Amazon Prime Video introduces ‘Watch Party,’ a social coviewing experience included with Prime

Amazon Prime Video is beginning to roll out a coviewing feature to Amazon Prime members in the U.S., the company announced today. The “Watch Party” feature, which is included at no extra cost with a Prime membership, allows participants to watch video content together at the same time with the playback synchronized to the host’s account.

The host of the cowatching session will be able to start, stop and pause the Watch Party as needed throughout the session, and those changes will also be synced to all participants’ devices instantly.

Each session can also support up to 100 participants — as long as those participants also have a Prime membership (or a Prime Video subscription) and are are watching from within the U.S.

While the video is playing, users can socialize with other participants through a built-in chat feature that supports both text and built-in emojis.

At launch, Watch Party is offered via Prime Video on the desktop and is supported across thousands of titles in the Prime Video SVOD (subscription video on demand) catalog. This includes the third-party content that comes with Prime as well as Amazon Originals like “Fleabag,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan,” “HANNA,” “Mindy Kaling’s Late Night,” “Donald Glover’s Guava Island,” “Troop Zero,” “The Big Sick,””The Boys,” “Homecoming,” “My Spy,” and others.

Titles available only for rent or purchase are not available within Watch Party at this time, Amazon says.

To get started with Watch Party, customers will click on the new Watch Party icon on the movie or show’s page on Prime Video desktop website. They’re then given a link they can share with friends and family however they want. Recipients who click the link will then join the session and be able to chat with others.

Amazon says the new feature was built as a native experience for Prime Video.

The company is the latest streaming service to roll out bulit-in support for coviewing — something that’s become a popular activity during the coronavirus pandemic as people are spending more time at home.

While the U.S. was sheltering in place under coronavirus lockdowns, a browser extension called Netflix Party went viral. Soon, all the streamers wanted in on this action. HBO, for example, partnered with the browser extension maker Scener to offer a “virtual theater” experience for cowatching that supports up to 20 people.

Hulu more recently launched its own native Watch Party feature for its “No Ads” subscribers on Hulu.com. Media software maker Plexa also rolled out cowatching support around the same time.

Amazon, however, had already offered a way to cowatch some of its Prime Video titles before today. Its game-streaming site Twitch had introduced Watch Parties this spring across over 70 Amazon Prime Video titles. The new native experience rolling out now offers a broader selection and has the potential to expand to more markets in the future.

If you don’t see Watch Party yet, you will have it soon as the feature is just now beginning to roll out more broadly.

Amazon wouldn’t comment on its future plans for Watch Party. When asked about the roadmap ahead, the company would only say that it introduces features when they’re ready for customers.

#amazon, #amazon-prime-video, #coviewing, #cowatching, #media, #prime-video, #video

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Original Content podcast: ‘Upload’ is a cheerful show about a nightmarish future

“Upload” feels like a slight, funny show — until you realize that without the jokes, the story would be unwatchably bleak.

The Amazon Prime Video series (created by Greg Daniels of “The Office,” “Parks & Recreation” and the upcoming “Space Force”) takes place in a near future where people can upload digital copies of themselves before they die.

The experience is marketed as a virtual retirement community, but it quickly becomes clear that being trapped in an afterlife run by a for-profit tech company has plenty of pitfalls. That’s doubly true for the show’s protagonist Nathan (played by Robbie Amell), who finds his entire existence controlled by his still-living girlfriend.

As we explain on the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, we enjoyed the show’s humor and the richness of its worldbuilding. If we had a complaint, it was that the murder mystery plot was fairly perfunctory.

You can listen to our review in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

If you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down.
0:00 Intro
0:20 “Upload” review (mild spoilers)
30:11 “Upload” spoiler discussion

#amazon, #amazon-prime-video, #entertainment, #media, #original-content-podcast

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In a surprising change, Amazon now sells movies in its Prime Video iOS app

iPhone and iPad users are now able to purchase and rent videos from Amazon directly in the Amazon Prime Video iOS and iPadOS apps in an apparent reversal of a longstanding limitation in Amazon’s apps on those platforms.

Users discovered the changes in an Amazon Prime Video iOS app update—the app now displays a pop-up notifying users of the new functionality. Neither Apple nor Amazon has made an announcement about the change elsewhere yet.

Historically, Amazon Prime Video and some other apps similar to it were limited to consumption of content acquired outside the app. So the previous version of the Prime Video app let users watch videos they’d purchased on say, Amazon’s website, but it would not let them purchase those videos directly from the app. And in cases where app developers do offer in-app purchases, those purchases are generally made through Apple’s own payment system.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#amazon, #amazon-prime-video, #app-store, #apple, #apple-app-store, #apple-tv, #itunes, #tech

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