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Amazon video going global with rival to ‘Top Gear’


San Francisco, United States | AFP |

Amazon is set to challenge Netflix worldwide with a massive expansion of its on-demand video streaming service featuring its remake of the BBC’s global hit “Top Gear.”

Amazon Prime Video is currently available in Austria, Britain, Germany, Japan and the United States, with a promise of availability soon in India.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that Prime would likely expand to some 200 countries and territories in a direct challenge to Netflix, which at the start of this year expanded to 190 countries to proclaim itself the first global television service.

Amazon’s take on “Top Gear,” called “The Grand Tour,” made its Prime debut Thursday in the existing markets including Britain and the United States — to rapturous reviews from the UK press.

Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos tweeted that the global rollout of “The Grand Tour” would come in December.

Its colorful main host, Jeremy Clarkson, was dropped from the madcap BBC show after he punched a producer in March.

The BBC came back with a rebooted version featuring new presenters including British broadcaster Chris Evans, but he quit after only one series following downbeat reviews of the program, which has 350 million viewers per week in 170 countries.

Amazon seized on the opportunity of hiring Clarkson and his two co-presenters to use the motoring show as a flagship product for its global ambitions.

“It’s going to be available in 200 territories. That’s pretty much everywhere,” Clarkson tweeted. “Amazon has gone global.”

How the show will be made available was not specified, meaning Amazon could opt to let people buy episodes from its online shop in some places rather than make it available on-demand at the Prime streaming service.

“We don’t have anything else to announce,” beyond Bezos’ announcement, an Amazon spokeswoman told AFP.

Eyes on Netflix 

Netflix last month posted earnings that alleviated concerns over its own growth.

The company said it had gained 3.57 million paid subscribers to its streaming service in the recently ended quarter — most of them from outside the United States — and finished the quarter with a higher-than-expected 86.74 million subscribers.

Of that number, 39.25 million subscribers were international, a sign that the company is gaining momentum as a global TV feed.

For the current quarter Netflix forecast a gain of 5.2 million subscribers, predicting 3.75 million of them would come from countries outside the US.

The service credited a robust lineup of original programming, including “Stranger Things” and “Narcos,” with helping draw customers.

The earnings report reassured investors after growth of only 1.68 million subscribers in the previous quarter had dampened enthusiasm for Netflix shares on Wall Street.

The on-demand television service credited with giving rise to “binge viewing” has won devotees with its own hit shows, including “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black.”

Offering originals 

Netflix and Amazon Prime Video have both ramped up their investment in programming, together spending some $7.5 billion (7 billion euros) — more than competitors CBS, HBO, or Turner, according to IHS Markit.

Netflix has planned for more than 1,000 hours of original programming next year and expanded its content budget to some $6 billion.

Original Amazon productions “Transparent” and “Mozart in the Jungle” won prestigious Emmy Awards in the US.

Prime Video is a popular perk of an Amazon subscription service that includes free delivery of products bought at its online store, which has moved dramatically beyond its early days as a bookseller.

Amazon has not disclosed the number of Prime subscribers, but research company CIRP estimated in late September that in the US alone there were 65 million, up 38 percent from a year earlier.

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