While Amazon has spared no expense in signing up Clarkson, Hammond and May, there’s a few big problems that need sorting before new show launches in 2016.
The move for the former Top Gear hosts is a smart one in many ways; it means like the original Top Gear, Jeremy and the gang will be able to make a TV show that won’t be interrupted by adverts.
Because there’s no watershed for on-demand TV, Clarkson & Co are allowed to be more overtly offensive and viewers aren’t tied down to a programme guide or 30-day catch-up window.
When all’s said and done, there’s still much to be done if Clarkson, Hammond and May can hope to eclipse previous glories.
Amazon needs more Prime customers in the UK
While Top Gear has a huge international audience, Clarkson, Hammond and May could be off to a slow start if Amazon doesn’t grow its Prime Instant Video footprint.
Ofcom’s recent Communications Market Report showed that just 1.2 million UK households have Prime Instant Video subscriptions, compared to 4.4 million homes that have Netflix.
Compared to the number of UK premises that have TV licences – 25 million – and you can see how far Amazon has to climb.
It’s not clear however if Ofcom’s 1.4 million figures include households that have Amazon Prime subscriptions which would make them de facto Prime Instant Video subscribers. Gauging the scope of Amazon’s reach in the UK is made harder by the fact that Amazon doesn’t disclose this kind of information.
Critics of the TV licence will be quick to point out that unless you stick to watching content online, you’re legally required to have a licence and that of those 25 million homes, not all of them will have tuned into Top Gear anyway.
Besides, no-one is forcing you to have an Amazon Prime account. Unless you were suckered in by Amazon’s 30-day giveaway earlier this year and failed to get a refund, in which case, that’s kind of your fault.
Amazon’s quest for eyeballs could, ironically, made harder by their recent star signings.
Streaming media is mainly consumed by millennials who are, statistically speaking, pretty down on racism, sexism and homophobia. Is the 16-24 year old market going to lap up a show starring three old codgers hooning around in cars bearing Argentine-baiting licence plates while making not-cool comments about prostitute murders?
This could be a problem, seeing as it’s this exact demographic that’s more likely to watch TV online.
The desktop Amazon UI needs an update
Amazon’s desktop player is virtually indistinguishable from the Amazon shop, which has remained basically unchanged since day one.
Compare it to the Netflix or Now TV user interfaces, which are much more colourful, inviting and easy to navigate. Compare it to the layout of (whisper it) BBC iPlayer.
Admittedly this is something of a personal gripe, but one Amazon could solve by incorporating elements of the Fire TV UI. This is elegant, eye-catching and it just works, probably because it’s actually designed for content delivery, compared to the standard Amazon shop, which is designed for, er, shopping.
The same goes if you try to watch any Amazon content on a bog standard Android phone. For some reason you’re given the shopping layout instead of something that looks like a video on-demand app. Come on Amazon. Roll out the Fire TV UI across the board.
While there will be tons of ways to watch Clarkson, Hammond and May, figures show that we’re increasingly turning to phones and laptops to get our viewing done, as opposed to set-top boxes.
Figures from the same Ofcom report show that 16-24 year olds are more likely to watch on a laptop (57 per cent) or a phone (45 per cent) than a set-top box (40 per cent).
‘Instant’ video isn’t always
Compared to other streaming services, Prime Instant Video can, in our experience, really drag its heels.
Even on superfast broadband services with sufficient bandwidth to handle 4K Ultra HD streams, it can often take Prime longer to load Full HD content compared to Netflix. This forum post is a litany of complaints with customers essentially all saying the same thing.
Speaking as someone with an up to 100Mbps broadband service, these moans are consistent with this writer’s experience too.
When we spoke to Amazon, a spokesperson said that it actively monitors video playback and the company is ‘working closely with CDN [Content Delivery Network] partners and our own technology to continually optimise performance in the last mile delivery of online video.’
We hope so. If Amazon hasn’t given the engine a tune up a year from now, Clarkson, Hammond and May’s first episode could limp off of the starting grid instead of roaring into life.
Given that some folks won’t even be able to get a basic 2Mbps service by 2016, this could be a real issue.
Ironically, this is a similar scenario that the BBC current faces with its pseudo-doomed youth channel BBC Three, which will be kicked off the airwaves next March, only to be reborn in an online-only format.
Tough luck is you happen to live in the sticks on sub 1Mbps speeds. You won’t be able to get BBC iPlayer or Prime Instant Video.
Maybe by that time, Amazon with deliver each episode to your house, frame by frame, via drone.