Amazon Prime users who want to watch Showtime, Starz and other cable channels can now add them to their existing membership for an extra monthly fee.
On Tuesday, Amazon announced a new option dubbed the Streaming Partners Program as a way for Prime members, who pay a $99 annual fee, to expand their viewing choices. The program offers the ability to watch streaming videos from Showtime, Starz, A+E Network, AMC and other content providers.
The additional channels give Amazon that much more to offer content-hungry viewers as it competes with the likes of Netflix, Hulu and cable companies. All are pushing the boundaries of how to package movies and TV shows to best entice consumers fed up with expensive cable packages and younger viewers whose entertainment experience revolves around online options rather than traditional TV.
The trick for Amazon and its rivals is to keep prices low enough to appeal to viewers but high enough to turn a profit. In June, Hulu unveiled an option to add Showtime to a subscription for a total of $17 a month, less than it would cost to get both separately. HBO and Showtime also offer their own standalone services for a monthly fee. (Editors' note: Showtime is owned by CBS, which is also the parent company of CNET.)
The advantage of all these services is that viewers can watch them through Internet-enabled TVs and Blu-ray players, streaming media players, gaming consoles and mobile devices.
Amazon will try to win over Prime users by offering a variety of benefits with its new program. Users can get a free trial on any subscription. Special Prime member pricing is available. For example, a subscription to Showtime costs $9 a month. The latest TV episodes will be available at the same time they're broadcast on cable.
Prime members can maintain one account and a single watch list to manage all their subscriptions. Members can search for and browse shows and movies across all subscriptions and cancel any one subscription at anytime.
"The way people watch TV is changing, and customers need an easier way to subscribe to and enjoy multiple streaming subscriptions," Michael Paull, vice president of digital video at Amazon, said in a press release. "With the Streaming Partners Program, we're making it easy for video providers to reach highly engaged Prime members, many of whom are already frequent streamers, and we're making it easier for viewers to watch their favorite shows and channels."
The content available will vary across the different cable channels. For example, all movies and TV series from Showtime and Starz will be included. But from A+E Network, only the Lifetime Movie Club will be accessible, while from AMC, only Shudder and the SundanceNow Doc Club will be offered. Other channels on the list include Acorn TV, Smithsonian Earth, IndieFlix Shorts and Ring TV Boxing.
Each channel will be offered a la carte for now. Showtime and Starz will cost $9 apiece per month, Acorn TV $5 a month, Lifetime Movie Club $4 a month and Smithsonian Earth also $4 a month.
The initial offerings are just the beginning. Amazon will be adding more channels on a regular basis, a spokesman for the company said.