Amazon Prime Video Channels might just have a reason to exist

Earlier this week, Amazon added a new feature to its Prime Video service. For an additional fee, you can now add Amazon Channels to your Prime subscription, letting you stream in specialist content from niche providers.

Continuing in the same vein as the US launch of the service (though missing some of that launch’s big name options, such as HBO), you only pay for the channels you want, and can completely ignore the additional stuff if you like. So far prices range from £1.99 to a £9.49 premium, with programming ranging from pricey fitness channels like Sweatflix to the Discovery channel.

It’d quickly add up if you bought into every channel, but many offer such niche content that you’re likely only going to want to hover around one or two.

Some of the providers (such as HBO in the US) already have robust streaming services of their own, so you’d have to wonder what exactly is the benefit (beyond scale) of partnering up with Amazon, especially as there must be some sort of revenue share involved.

But for others, it’s the best thing that could have happened to them. I’m thinking specifically about the BFI, and its BFI Player Plus service.

British Film Institutionalised

The BFI Player already exists as a web and app service, and offers a mixture of up-to-date paid for rentals alongside the BFI Player Plus subscription service. For £4.99 a month, it also offers up 300 films for unlimited streaming.

As far as content libraries go it serves its target audience incredibly well – avoiding the blockbusters that Netflix and Amazon usually fight over, BFI offers up a highly-curated catalogue of indie films, world cinema, cult classics and celluloid curios. It may not be full of CGI spectacle or buddy comedies, but it has the sort of films that movie critics praise highly.

The standalone BFI Player Plus looks great, but is a real chore to use.

The problem is, as a standalone service, the BFI Player is simply awful. I was a subscriber for a few months earlier this year, and I cancelled my subscription as I was so appalled by how broken everything was. And I can never usually be bothered to cancel anything. Its apps barely work, and I even struggled to get the browser-build of the BFI Player to work consistently.

British Film Inspirited

So I took my money elsewhere, which was a crying shame. The selection offered by BFI is hard to come by through any other service, with master filmmakers like Akira Kurosawa and Werner Herzog’s filmographies well represented. These are the sort of films that are sometimes hard to track down, and as a result it can be pricey to buy physical copies from some retailers. 

Which makes its arrival on the Amazon Prime player so fantastic. As a bolt on to my subscription, I get all* the great films that the BFI service offers, but with the benefits, bells and whistles of having it housed on Amazon’s superior platform. 

Master filmmakers like Akira Kurosawa and Werner Herzog are well represented.

I can support the sort of content I want to see, which is admittedly a bit specialist to expect to find on crowd pleasing Prime-standard or Netflix, without having to jump through hoops to get the bloody things to play. And BFI can get on with what it does best – curating and archiving interesting and important film – while Amazon gets to leverage its technological prowess. Win win.

A taste of the channels now available through Amazon.

There’s always a fear that the Amazon juggernaut will consume all the little guys, until it has an unstoppable monopoly over anything we wish to buy, or view, or listen to. Just look at the struggles booksellers have faced with Amazon’s meteoric online bookselling rise.

But sometimes you can’t help but be grateful for a giant like this. If the alternative is that the BFI Player Plus service is resigned to an early grave, I’m happy to put more money into the Amazon machine.

*Well, almost all. I’ve noticed a few discrepancies between the BFI Player Plus standalone catalogue, and that which is offered through Amazon. Regardless, the selection on offer is still strong – but you’d expect identically named, identically priced services to offer identical content. According to a BFI customer service representative I spoke to earlier, this is to be expected. They said:

“The Amazon service is provided by them directly, as such they control the content that is included. So although the content is sourced from the BFI Player Plus, not all of the content is included.”

However, an Amazon spokesperson said that both catalogues should be like for like, so the differences may still be early days teething issues. Amazon is looking into the matter, and I’ll update this story when I hear back from the company.