Just two weeks after Netflix (NFLX) neutralized one of Amazon (AMZN) Prime Video's competitive advantages by adding download/offline viewing support, Amazon has announced it's taking the battle to many of the foreign markets Netflix has spent billions to enter over the last few years. And the battle could go differently in some of these places than it has in the U.S.
Validating a November Wall Street Journal report, Amazon announced on Wednesday that Prime Video is launching in dozens of additional countries and territories, bringing the total number of covered markets above 200. In those new markets where Amazon Prime is already available, such as France, Italy, Spain and India, the service will naturally be bundled with Prime.
In other locales, including large countries such as Brazil, Russia, Mexico and Indonesia, however, it will be available on a standalone basis for $2.99 per month for the first six months, and $5.99 per month after that. Prime Video was already bundled with Prime in some overseas markets, such as the U.K., Germany and Japan.
Amazon's pricing clearly undercuts Netflix, which charges $10 per month or more for high-definition streaming in most foreign markets. Netflix expanded into 130 new markets in January, bringing its total count above 190. With the exception of China, where neither company has been able to launch a video service, Amazon and Netflix are now squaring off in every big video market on the planet, with pricing clearly an edge for Amazon.
Some might point out here that Amazon has effectively undercut Netflix for a long time in the U.S. by bundling Prime Video with its $99-per-year Prime subscriptions, and that this hasn't stopped Netflix from amassing over 46 million paid U.S. subscribers. Or that there's a ton of overlap between Netflix and Prime's U.S. bases.
But it's worth keeping in mind that many of the foreign markets Netflix and Amazon will be battling in are much more cost-sensitive than the U.S. Brazil, India and Russia, respectively, have per capita GDPs (in absolute dollars) of $8,500, $1,600 and $9,100, compared with $56,000 for the U.S. Even if one assumes Netflix is just going after middle- and upper-class consumers in these countries, the lower cost of Amazon's services is likely to be a bigger selling point in such places.
And even in wealthier regions such as Western Europe and Japan, the fact that video spending habits are often very different than in the U.S. could work in Amazon's favor. The U.S. market, by and large, is split between cord-cutters, and pay-TV subscribers who on average pay upwards of $80 per month for TV services. Both of these groups seem comfortable also paying $10 per month for Netflix and $99 per year for Prime.
By contrast, there has been less cord-cutting in Western Europe and Japan, and pay-TV subscribers there are more likely to pay around $40 per month than $80 per month. That could yield a greater number of consumers questioning whether it's worth paying for two different streaming services.
Moreover, while Netflix does maintain an edge on Amazon with regards to content, the edge might not be as strong in markets where original shows that have proven popular with U.S. audiences aren't as well-received. That's particularly true since the size of Netflix's TV/movie libraries has declined as the company gives priority to original content and hit shows/movies. All of that can create openings for Amazon, which has forecast its video spending will nearly double annually in the second half of 2016.
Netflix still has a lot going for it, as its high U.S. customer satisfaction rates show. The company has promised to spend $6 billion on content in 2017, and has shown that -- with the help of tons of user data -- it knows how to make good use of its funds. And its strong third-quarter results and fourth-quarter subscriber guidance suggest its momentum is healthy for now.
But in the wake of Wednesday's news, there are reasons to think Amazon will often be more of a direct competitive threat to Netflix overseas than it has been in the U.S. And with international markets now accounting for two-thirds of Netflix's subscriber growth, any loss of momentum on this front could spark an ugly investor reaction.