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Amazon Prime Video, Creators and Fixing the Clunky User Experience

Amazon is a video hub for many streaming users. Whether it’s through Fire sticks, Prime Video or both, there are tens of millions of U.S. consumers that interact with their video products in some way. And right off the bat, I’ll note that what we’re talking about here is Prime Video as an app — rather than the Fire stick interface, which is actually pretty simple and does the job well enough.

Discussing Prime Video is a different animal all together, however. Unlike its streaming competitors, there’s little focus with an expansive and currently disjointed library. It’s easy enough to search, of course. But discovery is not Prime’s strong suit, and ultimately becomes its biggest downfall when comparing it to other streamers, which are heavily algorithm-based, though each have their own way of presenting those results.

Our own Alan Wolk touched on this a bit in his most recent “week in review” piece regarding Netflix and Shonda Rhimes. The mega-deal Netflix signed with the creator of Grey’s Anatomy and other linear TV hits were equal-sized bet on a popular creator, and her ability to fit within the streaming giant’s emphasis on volume and”new” content. The almighty algorithm is still a major aspect of the Netflix experience, and what keeps many coming back. But the volume of content and the blaring NEW scroll each week is the moneymaker now. By always having something fresh, you’re never wandering around for something anymore.

Disney+, as we’ve also discussed, is in the franchise game as its point of differentiation. Specific IP is why people are subscribed to the service, and Disney+ delivers a number of ways to find it. There are the logos at the top that navigate you toward which corner of the Disney-verse you’d like to venture to. They recommend new things, but with clear images that indicate which franchise it’s part of. Your viewing history fuels further recommendations. And then curated content lists are further tailored toward the franchise(s) within Disney you’re most apt to watch.

There are other differentiators too, for the various other services out there. Discovery+ excels at lean-back programming. Peacock’s free tier makes a bet on price advantage, and the fact that eventually you’ll want the other seasons of The Office, so you’ll just pay the $5 per month. Hulu assumes you want something that looks and feels like TV. Even Paramount+, which hasn’t even officially arrived yet, bets you want live TV in the same interface as on-demand, and that sports (in their case, specifically the NFL and UEFA Champions League) should be a big part of that.

So where does that leave Amazon? That’s the glaring issue for Prime Video, really. They have an expansive content list, but no way to wrap your head around it. There are numerous channels you can add on in a “bundle” format, but like content doesn’t have a central and obvious place to live.

That’s what makes Amazon’s deal with Donald Glover a potential gamechanger. Along with the projects he’ll bring to the table, there’s a channel focus attached that plots a clearer way forward for Prime Video as a hub for your favorite creators, franchises and/or genres — and something that can be built out to support a bundle approach in the future.

On the Verge, Julia Alexander notes this is a step toward making Prime Video feel more curated and personal, and that gets to the heart of why this makes so much sense for Amazon. A creator hub like this is a differentiating point, and it gears that curation around talented individuals like Glover and potentially Phoebe Waller-Bridge (among others). Fans of these artists aren’t just fans of the characters they play, but what they write, produce and enjoy themselves. They’re tastemakers. And this sets up a way to allow Amazon to be the tastemaker choice — really, the only one of the larger streaming services that would be organized in this way.

This new channel approach also extends out toward organizing existing channels more successfully. Right now with Prime, you can add channels for Starz, HBO, Noggin, Shudder, Cinemax, Hallmark, Acorn, Britbox, the currently separate ViacomCBS services, and many more. But you’re not getting a curated channel, necessarily. Just a collection of like shows still presented in a bland and endless scroll (both left to right, and up and down).

By housing these channels as hubs — and maybe even presented much in the way Disney+ is — it’s an organizational structure Amazon lacks and could yield more discovery and watch time for the service. This is already the way things are moving for Disney abroad, as it incorporates Star and aims for a big tent. Paramount+ seems to be doing the same given the number of ViacomCBS services under its own umbrella.

Amazon’s advantage becomes the opportunity to let channels be what they want, though, while being managed by creators just as much as networks and studios. And if Glover’s addition wasn’t enough, then perhaps a bigger piece of the NFL broadcast pie will be.

With no clear Thursday Night Football buyer yet, and uncertainty around whether DirecTV winds up renewing its Sunday Ticket exclusivity, Amazon (already a streaming partner for Thursday nights) could suddenly become a much larger player in sports rights there. The NFL doesn’t have to go the exclusive route for Sunday Ticket again, but Amazon also has the money to make that happen, should they so choose. As a result, the Amazon “bundle” that includes every NFL game suddenly seems like a much more appealing option for current streamers and new cord-cutters alike.

And with the customized channel approach potentially up and running by then, Amazon could easily plug in original NFL programming, live games, an NFL Network feed and more into its own league channel hub. The one-stop shop for NFL action would be a sure hit for Sundays each fall… and ad space on those splash pages could be their own boon to Amazon’s coffers (or more likely, a convenient and well-trafficked place to push football viewers to the rest of the Amazon family of programming).

If this sounds like a lot of change, it definitely is. But the additions of these sorts of valuable properties and creators could be a golden opportunity for Amazon to fix Prime Video’s interface in an effort to appeal more to consumers — without just copying its competitors straight-up.