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Prime numbers: Amazon's streaming content figures questioned

Amazon Prime's streaming video service is touted as offering thousands of movies and TV shows available to members. Some number-crunchers are calling that estimate massively inflated. 

Fast Company magazine reports that Amazon says it offers more than 17,000 movies and shows, a claim the magazine says is misleading because the company actually counts each episode of a TV series as a "show." In other words, just a few long-running productions could count as thousands of shows. Using the more conventional characterization of a TV series as a show, the magazine calculates that 1,745 movies and only about 150 TV shows are part of the Prime Instant Video offering. 

At $79 per year, a Prime membership is still cheaper than rivals Netflix or Hulu Plus, and the membership includes other perks like free shipping. A partnership announced in February between Redbox owner Coinstar and Verizon to offer streaming content won't be available until the second half of the year, so consumers who want streaming content have limited choices, even if the amount of content is less than it appears.

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"They could've been a little more transparent about it," said Alan Webber, principal analyst at the Altimeter Group, a technology research and advisory firm. He said that he didn't think the online retailer was out to deceive customers, however. 

"Look at where the future of content is going," he said. "The music industry went from albums to selling songs." Treating TV episodes as individual products rather than as parts reflects this new norm, Webber said. "I think that's just part of the natural evolution of the segmentation of content and how we actually procure and use content."

Amazon did not immediately respond when asked if it planned to revise its method of counting streaming media titles, but the current landing page for Instant Video now characterizes the number of available titles as "thousands."