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Netflix vs. Amazon: Who Has the Best Video?

Amazon Video's 67th Primetime Emmy CelebrationAmazon Video's 67th Primetime Emmy Celebration
Transparent actor Jeffrey Tambor at the 67th annual Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles, Calif.Photograph by Amanda Edwards — WireImage/Getty Images

Last week, Amazon announced a monthly Prime option to compete more directly with its streaming rivals. But with streaming services notoriously close-mouthed about exactly how much content they offer, how can you decide which option is best for you?

Thankfully, Mark Fahey at CNBC has done an obsessively granular comparison of the amount and quality of video available for streaming on Amazon (AMZN) and Netflix (NFLX). And he came up with some real insights—many counterintuitive.

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CNBC’s initial tally found that Amazon Prime streaming has more titles than Netflix, and that more of them had high ratings from users. But, as host Eric Chemi puts it, you gotta go beyond the raw numbers.

Around 900 titles on Amazon, it turns out, are under 10 minutes long, compared to just 30 short titles on Netflix. And Amazon’s videos include many that are likely to have pretty narrow appeal—as an example, CNBC excerpts a nine and a half minute animated video teaching kids how to read X/Y coordinates on a map.

That video does have a five-star rating—but it’s based on just a single review. CNBC found that a lot of Amazon ratings were based on just a single user review. They also found that Amazon users gave the same content a higher rating than Netflix users did, inflating the impression of overall quality.

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Does all this mean Amazon is trying to snow users? Not particularly. But it does mean that directly comparing the content on Netflix and Amazon is tough, if not impossible. That complicates an already tricky decision, considering that Amazon Prime membership can bundle video, music—and of course free shipping, the real jewel in the crown.

The difficulty of a direct comparison makes Netflix’s strategy of building its brand on premium, exclusive content look very smart—and explains why Amazon, with shows like Transparent and Mozart in the Jungle, is trying to chart the same course.