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Netflix CEO on Amazon Prime video: 'A confusing mess'

Leave it to Reed Hastings to jazz up a slow month in digital media. In interview with Wall Street Journal, CEO throws down on Amazon Prime.

Greg Sandoval Former Staff writer
Greg Sandoval covers media and digital entertainment for CNET News. Based in New York, Sandoval is a former reporter for The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. E-mail Greg, or follow him on Twitter at @sandoCNET.
Greg Sandoval
2 min read
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings CBS 60 Minutes

Apart from some good-natured ribbing, Reed Hastings has typically shied away from criticizing competitors.

But the Netflix CEO shed his polite demeanor in an interview with The Wall Street Journal in which he called Amazon's Prime video service "a confusing mess" and said that Netflix's ability to suggest videos for customers to watch was "much better than Amazon's."

In a Q&A with the Journal, which was posted to the newspaper's Web site last night, Hastings was asked what can Netflix do to compete with Amazon and Hulu. He said this:

In the U.S., our content budget is about three times [Amazon's], and we've got about three times more content. And what our customers tell us is they want Netflix to have more content, not to have two-thirds less at a lower price. That's not that interesting a proposition for them. [Amazon has its Prime membership service] and it's really about low-cost shipping, but why is video in there? It's kind of a confusing mess.

We can do a better user experience on video because it's our only business. The way we do algorithms to choose which content is shown to you is much better than Amazon's, much better than Hulu's. They've got talented teams, but they're doing a lot of other things and we're focused on this one area.

For Netflix, the remarks appear to be a significant change in attitude towards Amazon. For a long time, Hastings has responded to questions about Amazon by smiling and saying that the e-commerce company's video library and number of customers were much smaller than those on the Netflix side and didn't represent much of a threat. HBO was a much more significant competitor, according to Hastings.

But in the past year, Amazon has continued to build out its video offering. The most recent example came earlier this month when Amazon Prime announced it had struck a streaming-video licensing deal with pay-TV service Epix. The deal would give Amazon customers access to such films as "The Hunger Games," "Super 8," and "Thor."

I suspect that this nastygram from Hastings is a sign that Netflix feels Amazon closing some of the ground between them.

Amazon Prime costs $79 per year. For that, subscribers get free two-day shipping on their purchases as well as unlimited access to a pool of movies and TV shows that the company will stream to Web-connected devices.

Read the Journal interview. Hastings also boasted about the size of Netflix's content budget compared to Amazon's. But don't try to read it in the print edition. For some reason, some of Hastings' toughest comments about Amazon are not in the paper.