Amazon Prime Video is getting its own stage.
The online retailer's streaming video service is now available as a standalone option for the first time. The company is letting fans in the US binge on Amazon original shows like "Mozart in the Jungle" and "The New Yorker Presents" for $8.99 a month after a 30-day free trial.
There are even more Prime changes than simply that. Late Sunday, the company also unveiled a new subscription option for its full Prime membership, which uses two-day, free shipping on purchases as its main draw. People can now join Prime for $10.99 a month, a long-sought alternative to its $99 annual plan.
Since Prime Video launched in 2011, the only way to get the streaming service has been to fork over the yearly $99 fee for the full Prime membership. You can still do that. But now that Prime Video has grown with a healthy catalog of movies, TV shows and original programs, Amazon apparently felt Prime Video could stand on its own.
Creating the independent service also makes Prime Video a more direct competitor to Netflix, the leading streaming-video service. The most popular plan at Netflix costs $9.99 a month, $1 more than the new Prime Video service. Wedbush analysts predicted Monday that the new Amazon service will be a big problem for Netflix, saying both companies will evenly split the remaining uncommitted customers, "severely impacting Netflix's continued domestic growth."
A Netflix representative didn't respond to a request for comment.
It now seems more likely that Amazon will one day offer a standalone option for its Amazon Music streaming service too, perhaps bringing new competition to Spotify and Apple Music.
Amazon's monthly video plan comes as a handful of new video services have cropped up, with each looking to capture viewers who are spending more time streaming and less time with cable TV. In addition to Netflix, Amazon and Hulu, streaming services have rolled out from HBO, Showtime and CBS. (CBS is the parent company of both CNET and Showtime.)
Amazon had been using its video programming to draw more subscribers to full Prime subscriptions, which grew by a healthy 47 percent in the US last year. The company came out with Golden Globe winners "Transparent" and "Mozart in the Jungle," as well as the Emmy-winning kids' show "Tumble Leaf."
This year, Prime Video will air Woody Allen's first-ever TV series, as well as another season of its critically acclaimed alternative-history series, "The Man in the High Castle." In December, it created the Streaming Partners Program, to let people pay to add more channels to Prime Video, including Showtime and Starz.
Netflix, meanwhile, has also aggressively moved into original programming with "House of Cards," Judd Apatow's "Love" and Aziz Ansari's "Master of None." In January, CEO Reed Hastings announced that Netflix expanded to nearly every country in the world.
The good news for both Netflix and Amazon, the two biggest US video-streaming services, is that viewers seem to be spending more time with online TV in general and that plenty of customers pay for both services. Overall, 64 percent of US households with broadband Internet subscribe to an online video service, up from 59 percent last year, according to a report last week from Parks Associates.
Yet with Amazon's standalone video option just $2 cheaper than a full Prime monthly membership -- which includes free two-day shipping of products from Amazon.com, Amazon Prime Video, the Amazon Music library and several other goodies -- many customers interested in a monthly service may choose the more expensive option. Both monthly memberships include a free, 30-day trial.
Sprint last month started offering a monthly Prime program for its wireless customers for $10.99, too.
Getting Prime just for holiday shopping may be a great option for some customers looking to use its free shipping for gifts. But anyone interested in keeping Prime for the year should do the math first. An annual Prime membership is $99, while the monthly tier will cost nearly $132 over 12 months.