Amazon Prime has finally landed in the UAE, and while that’s obviously good news for shoppers who can’t wait to receive their latest purchases following the US giant’s takeover of Souq.com. It’s also good news for TV fans as the expansion of the Amazon.ae site also includes the revamp of the Amazon Prime Video streaming service.
Amazon Prime Video was initially launched in the UAE back in December 2016, but it wasn’t entirely straightforward. The launch was very low key, and at that point there was no Amazon.ae site, so users would generally be directed to their home country’s site, or whichever country’s site they had used to open their Amazon account initially.
This meant that users would be potentially presented with a vast array of content, only to click on a show and learn that it’s not actually available in this region. A VPN would be an option, but due to the legal grey area surrounding VPNs in the UAE, it's not something we could advocate.
With Amazon now officially present in the region, we can at last see which shows are actually available to watch, so how does Amazon compare to the competitors such as Netflix, both regionally and internationally?
Amazon has so far declined to make an official announcement about exactly what shows will be on the site – we’re expecting more news on Sunday. However, there’s a very simple solution to this: Simply sign up to the current Amazon Prime 30-day free trial and look for yourself. On first glance, the programme looks very Amazon Original-heavy.
Popular shows such as Hanna, Good Omens, The Marvelous Mrs Maisel and, yes, Fleabag are all there in their entirety, alongside some third-party content including, on an initial search, Hollywood films like No Country for Old Men, Bollywood favourites including Mirzapoor and Gully Boy and dedicated sections for Hindi and Tamil movies, as well as Arabic subtitled and Arabic audio movies (note these are mostly foreign films with no section for actual Arabic movies).
It’s impressive, but there’s still some way to go to catch front runner Netflix here. In 2018, Netflix released around 1,500 hours of original content, and that’s set to increase this year with as much as $15 billion put aside for production in 2019. Amazon is expected to spend around $6 billion on new content this year.
To put that in terms of shows, as of September 2018, Netflix had 245 Originals already available, and 257 in production. Amazon lagged with 80 complete and 97 in production. The third big international streamer currently available in the Middle East, Starz Play, had less than 20 shows available, and 18 in production.
Figures for the major regional services aren’t immediately available, though it’s fair to say they’re a long way behind Netflix. OSN’s Wavo service undertakes no in-house production of note, save for streaming content from OSN’s linear Yahala! Channel. Nonetheless, if original Arabic content is a key factor, MBC’s Shahid or ICFlix should still be an option.
Amazon impressively takes the points home here. Standard pricing is just Dh16 a month, but Amazon are hosting an introductory offer of just Dh12 a month until October 31. Subscribers also have the option to sign up for a full 12 months for just Dh140, even less than the Dh12 offer.
Netflix currently costs from Dh33 a month for its basic service, and Starz Play is Dh40 a month. Local service ICFlix is also around Dh30 a month, and even MBC’s Shahid service costs around Dh18, so Amazon is the clear winner here.
All the major streaming platforms are available on most devices, from phones to tablets to laptops, Apple TV and smart TVs. Points dropped for Amazon here though as it isn’t available via its rival Google’s Chromecast service. The regional services are only available to download as apps in select territories, and Starz Play is restricted by territory too. Some of the territories it is available in, including the UK and Germany also require you to screen it via Amazon Prime, so it faces the same Chromecast issues. Another win for Netflix, which is easily available in every major territory in the world, with the exception of China, which is also true for all of our other services.
This is a walkover for Amazon. With every other service, you get TV shows and movies to watch, which is great – that’s what you signed up for. With your Amazon subscription you also get free next day and discounted same-day delivery on thousands of items from Amazon’s online shopping site, free standard overseas deliveries, access to Amazon’s Twitch gaming service, and free access to exclusive shopping deals, including the annual, members only, Prime Day megasale.
Amazon also offers 4K content for free in some markets – this requires an improved package on Netflix, and it offers the “Channels” service which allows you to watch other TV channels, for an extra fee. Amazon hasn’t yet clarified whether either of these options will be available in the UAE
We noticed on our brief exploratory tour round the Amazon site that we were getting a lot of unwanted clicks when we tried to scroll (this was on a laptop), which could get annoying quite quickly. Also, Amazon streams ads before your chosen show (just for its own content in our experience so far), while Netflix is totally ad-free.
Amazon’s algorithms also seem a little lagging compared to Netflix. Admittedly, my relationship with the Amazon platform is limited to a couple of months of membership prior to the full Amazon Prime launch in the UAE, but every single film or show it recommended me to watch next on re-joining, I had already seen – two of them using my own Amazon account in the last six months or so. Netflix doesn’t always get it spot on, but it doesn’t usually suggest repeat viewings.
Netflix is still leading the pack in terms of quantity of content, and judging by recent awards hauls in terms of quality too. It is clear though, that the competition is heating up, and will only continue to do so with new platforms expected from Disney, Warner Bros and Apple, to name but three.
Amazon Video Prime will be a welcome addition to the regional TV landscape now it appears to work a bit better. Although as the marketplace becomes increasingly crowded, it may live to regret its decision to launch half-heartedly just over two years ago – it’s harder to drag a customer back to a substandard service than it is to persuade them to try a new one. Fortunately, the other benefits, particularly in terms of shopping, could be enough in themselves to convince many waverers, with streaming seen as an added extra.