Netflix Calls Amazon a "Confusing Mess"

Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX  ) isn't afraid of Amazon.com's (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) challenge.

In a Wall Street Journal interview earlier this week, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings addressed Amazon's role as the leading online retailer is shaping up to be Netflix's closest competitor.

He argues that Netflix has three times the content budget in the U.S., and that corresponds with three times more content.

"What our customers tell us is they want Netflix to have more content, not to have two-thirds less at a lower price," he says. "That's not that interesting a proposition for them."

Hastings then goes on to take a shot at the multi-headed nature of Amazon Prime.

"It's really about low-cost shipping, but why is video in there," he asks. "It's kind of a confusing mess."

Yes, Amazon Prime is a bit of a confusing mess. For most customers, paying $79 a year for free two-day shipping of Amazon-stocked goods is a great deal. If they own Kindles, they may take advantage of the growing number of titles that are available as monthly rentals at no additional cost. Then you get to the growing digital library of video that is being made available to Amazon Prime members.

Every aspect of an Amazon Prime membership is incremental, but it also takes away from the identity of the service.

It's easy to see why Amazon is including the digital book rentals and video streams. Customers that are consuming digital media may not be ordering as many hard goods from Amazon as they used to.

There's nothing wrong with a multi-media ecosystem. Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) is living proof that you can be the king of all digital media. However, in trying to be a Swiss Army Knife, Amazon also misses the focus -- or at the very least the perceived focus -- for the actual video service.

Why do you think Netflix entertained splitting its fading DVD business from its growing streaming business? Focus. A loud consumer outcry is the only reason why Qwikster isn't the one handling a customer's DVD and Blu-ray rentals these days.

When Verizon (NYSE: VZ  ) and Coinstar (Nasdaq: CSTR  ) roll out their digital video service later this year -- if it even happens at this point --  will it really be a hit? Coinstar's still too busy trying to protect its Redbox rental business. Verizon is probably eyeing digital video as one of its many hooks to woo smartphone accounts.

Netflix, on the other hand, eats and sleeps video. It's all about more than a decade of crunching data on consumer video tastes, and then parlaying that knowledge on the country's largest base of premium video subscribers.

Amazon needs to be respected. It's shown that it's willing to sacrifice near-term margins for the sake of market share. However, as long as it's trying to juggle so many initiatives it will never truly be a worthy rival to Netflix.

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The Motley Fool owns shares of Netflix, Amazon.com, and Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Netflix, Amazon.com, Apple, and Coinstar. Motley Fool newsletter services have also recommended creating a bear put ladder position in Netflix and a bull call spread position in Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has been a Netflix subscriber and shareholder since 2002. He does not own shares in any of the other stocks in this story. Rick is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.


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  • Report this Comment On September 29, 2012, at 1:46 PM, NumM2K wrote:

    I happen to like the "One-stop-shop" aspect of Amazon Prime. The value added with the streaming service as well as the loaner books (I'm a gen1 Kindle owner) is wonderful.

    Netflix, on the other hand, has nothing for me that is truly any different. The 'good' content, if you will, is reserved for places outside the US. I have a nice VPN service that allows me to grab IP addresses from Europe and view Netflix there. Amazing the difference in content. Why limit the content in the US (that's rhetorical, as we all know the answer to that).

    Regardless, I'll stick with Amazon. Their services, which sometimes begin 'spotty,' have always seemed to gather steam and provide a lot of value. And now that they've released an iOS player for their videos (which I'm so very happy they did given I have an iPad), I find it less attractive to keep Netflix going forward. The content is nearly the same, plus if I REALLY want something, I can get it digitally from Amazon as a rental or just flat-out buy it...that is one of the biggest differentiators Amazon has on their side. I'm happy to pony-up an additional $0.99 to rent a movie...

  • Report this Comment On September 29, 2012, at 2:06 PM, tuan2le wrote:

    I'm curious about anti-trust aspect of Amazon's tie-in approach. Did Microsoft not get into problems with tying Explorer with its OS? Could anyone shed some light on this?

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