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Amazon just made Netflix's earnings call more interesting

Netflix and Amazon go head-to-head at last. Also: Got a question for Reed Hastings today? Send it along.

Asa Mathat

Reed Hastings got it right. It just took longer than he thought.

“We expect Amazon to continue to offer their video service as a free extra with Prime domestically but also to brand their video subscription offering as a standalone service at a price less than ours,” the Netflix CEO told his investors in a quarterly update — back in January 2012.

So here you go, four years later: Amazon has branded its video subscription offering as a standalone service at $9 a month — a buck a month less than Netflix is charging most of its customers.

So what does that mean? Hastings and company declined to comment last night, but the question is certain to come up during Netflix’s Q1 earnings call this afternoon. Which is one of the reasons Amazon announced the move a few hours before Netflix’s Q1 earnings call.

In between now and then, here are a couple nuggets to chew on:

  • In theory, this should be a big scary deal for Hastings: For years, he’s been able to grow his digital video subscription business with just a single direct competitor. And while Hulu does offer a digital video subscription business priced similarly to Netflix’s, the differences were significant, too. Until recently, Hulu had un-skippable ads, and while Netflix’s strength has become originals you can’t see anywhere else, Hulu’s primary selling point is that it has shows that ran on primetime TV the night before. Now Amazon is selling something at (basically) the same price, with a similar “originals plus a grab bag of old stuff” pitch.
  • This may not be scary for Hastings at all: Paying $9 a month for Amazon video is a bad deal, compared to paying $99 for a year of Amazon Prime, which includes Amazon video plus many other goodies, and which works out to $8.25 a month. So it may be that Jeff Bezos has no intention of really “competing” with Netflix, but that he just wants to underscore the value of a $99/year Amazon Prime subscription.
  • We won’t know what Amazon is up to until we see how it markets Amazon video. One of the reasons that Amazon video is so much smaller than Netflix — Amazon won’t tell you how many monthly users/subscribers it has, but data usage numbers suggest it’s about 10 percent of Netflix’s base — is that many people don’t know it exists. (Which is too bad! There’s some great stuff there, especially “Catastrophe.” [Ignore all the people who write stories suggesting that “Mozart in the Jungle” is a show you should watch, by the way. They haven’t watched it, either. It’s not good.]) Amazon has been oddly reluctant to tell people that Amazon video is something they can get, or something they already have. Maybe that will change now. Maybe that will change when Amazon gets a really high-profile show to boast about (which is why you’d think they might have tried harder to land that NFL deal — Jeff Bezos certainly could have spent much more than Jack Dorsey did.)

A note about earnings: This will be the third quarter I’ve co-hosted the Netflix earnings call, and it will be my last. It’s been an interesting experiment, and we can make it more interesting with your help: If you’ve got questions you’d like me or Morgan Stanley analyst Ben Swinburne to ask today, shoot them over to peter@recode.net, and we’ll do our best to answer. See you at 4 pm ET for the numbers, and 5 pm for the call.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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