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Navigating the Streaming Studio System, from Amazon and Netflix to Warner Archive Instant

Photo of Ryan Lattanzio By Ryan Lattanzio | TOH! May 8, 2013 at 2:35PM

Viewers have more than their fair share of choices when it comes to online video content, as both Amazon and Warner Bros. have recently unveiled new streaming services to compete with on-the-rise Netflix.
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Warner Bros

Viewers have more than their fair share of choices when it comes to online video content, as both Amazon and Warner Bros. have recently unveiled new streaming services to compete with on-the-rise Netflix.

Within recent weeks, Amazon launched 14 new pilots -- eight comedy and six children's -- available for streaming on its Instant Video service and produced by its newly minted Amazon Studios. In a kind of democratic focus group structure, it's up to viewers to decide what will stay and what will go. 

In early April, Warner Bros. launched the controversial Warner Archive Instant, which charges customers $2 more a month than Netflix, and for less content. Though, Warner Bros. insists, the majority of their titles are exclusively drawn from their entertainment library -- ranging from the silent '20s all the way to the acid-wash '80s -- with some crossover with Netflix to be expected. 

Warner Archive Instant's aim is to provide content that customers won't find anywhere else. Film buffs should find their obscure tastes satisfied over at the archive. Some of the juiciest titles available include Jacques Tourneur's psychosexual cult classic "Cat People," my personal fave Arthur Penn film, the noir-soaked "Night Moves" with Gene Hackman as a Hollywood private eye," and Elia Kazan's "A Face in the Crowd." Select films are available in 1080p HD.

But is this enough to compete? Last week, Netflix fell under siege for losing nearly 2,000 titles from their streaming library due to expired licensing agreements (some of which came, natch, from Warners). Now it's up to studios to compete with this content vacuum by developing their own verticals rather than adhere to this shopworn licensing paradigm. But it's likely that most, realizing that bigger portals bring more eyeballs, will just make better deals at the likes of Amazon and Hulu.

Given these recent changes in the streaming landscape, Warner Bros., under the new leadership of digitally-savvy Kevin Tsujihara, may consider offering original content, not just movies, to streamers. Netflix has done well with this new model, banking $60 million with original series "House of Cards" after extensive and downright Orwellian statistical research -- i.e. monitoring their customers' every pause, play and rewind. 

On the heels of Amazon Studios -- read our interview with director Roy Price here -- Amazon is competing well in their new turn toward serialized television. They opened up streaming of their new pilots not just to Amazon Prime subscribers ($79 a year for a wealth of content, though not more recent titles) but to anyone with an internet connection, a strategy that drew in big numbers when the pilots were made available in April. As we wrote previously, "Why not use the Flixster mobile and Facebook consumer interface to push eyeballs toward user-generated movie recommendations as well as critics' choices?"

This article is related to: Netflix, Warner Archive, Amazon


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.