A Much Worse Viewing Experience

Amazon Prime, Now With Ads

Anyone that has been reading the site lately probably saw me reviewing one terrible 1980s movie or another. That’s because I was digging through the archives on a couple of sites – Amazon PrimeWhile Netflix might be the largest streaming seervice right now, other major contenders have come into the game. One of the biggest, and best funded, is Amazon Prime, the streaming-service add-on packing with free delivery and all kinds of other perks Amazon gives its members. And, with the backing of its corporate parent, this streaming service very well could become the market leader. Video and Tubi – and grabbing whatever junk they had for amusing reviews. The films I was going for are terrible, but that was part of the charm. Anyone can review the hot, new thing, but a junk movie from the 1980s that everyone forgot about (for good reason)? Someone should review those, too. May you never be forgotten, Gleaming the Cube.

However, as of yesterday, Amazon Prime is no longer on my watch list. Why? Because of ads. Big A, the evil empire that they are, has elected to put ads on their basic tier streaming package, the one they included with their Prime subscription service, and those kicked in yesterday. I have other services that have ad breaks, like Paramount+, and while those are annoying the prices are cheap (or, in the case of Tubi, free) and the ad breaks are fairly short and not too frequent. I don’t like ads, but the inconvenience of them, in these situations, wasn’t so great that I had to move away. That is not the case with Amazon.

Specifically, as I was browsing through Amazon I came across Tank Girl. This is the perfect kind of fodder for my site: a trash movie that is gloriously bad in that delightfully cheesy way, and it has been largely forgotten by the general viewing public. That’s exactly the kind of movie I want to discuss here so some small part of it, at least, is preserved for all time. But as I’m going through the film I’m interrupted, repeatedly, by ads. There were ads at the start before I even got into the movie. There was an ad break, for three minutes, just five minutes in. There was another break at the ten minute mark, again for close to three minutes. Looking ahead, the film had ads every five minutes or so. I did the math and at that rate the 90 minute cheese fest I wanted to watch would have 18 ad breaks, and if the time remained anywhere near two minutes (let alone the three minutes I was consistently seeing), that would add over a half an hour to the runtime. If the ad breaks got longer, I could be in for a two-and-a-half hour viewing experience. For Tank Girl.

Needless to say I shut it off. Then I went online to see where I could buy the film, on DVD, so I wouldn’t have to watch it on Amazon. And, no, I didn’t buy the film from Amazon. That would defeat the purpose of my exercise in defiance. “Boo on you Amazon, now take my money for a physical copy.” No thanks.

Part of the charm of Amazon Prime Video was that it came as part of Amazon Prime. That service is already costly, at $140 a year if you do the yearly subscription (and more if you go month to month). Now, arguably that’s the main focus of Prime, the free shipping. Most people get the plan to get the fast, quick shipping. But all you’re getting is free shipping on stuff you bought from Amazon, meaning they’re basically charging you twice: once for the item and once for the shipping. You get the shipping for free, but you had to pay for that service ahead of time, meaning it isn’t really free. And considering you could just wait a few extra days and get actual free shipping on the site as well (as long as your order is $35 bucks or more) then why pay for the shipping?

For me, the real reason to get Prime was to get the video service so I could watch stuff there. At $15 a month, or $140 a year, that service is as much as the now-standard NetflixOriginally started as a disc-by-mail service, Netflix has grown to be one of the largest media companies in the world (and one of the most valued internet companies as well). With a constant slate of new internet streaming-based programming that updates all the time, Netflix has redefined what it means to watch TV and films (as well as how to do it). without ads plan. And now, if you want it without ads you have to pay an extra three bucks a month for that. $18 a month or $176 a year. That isn’t a deal at all. If you don’t pay then you get more ads than even broadcast TV, either encouraging you to pay extra or getting Amazon even more money for all the ads you just had to sit through.

I think the fact that there were so many ads was what really put me off. When streaming became the hot, new thing the promise was that it would be “better than TV.” This was the alternative to broadcast TV and pay cable, a service you could pay a cheap price for and get all the shows you wanted, any time you wanted, without all the ads and bloat that came with. But over the last couple of years (post-COVID), the streaming networks have become desperate. The competition grew, and everyone’s audience numbers skyrocketed during the pandemic, but then reality crashed back down when everyone could go back outside and people didn’t want to spend all day indoors, in front of their TVs. Netflix led the charge, first instituting ads on their lowest tiers, then forcing everyone to have their own accounts (no password sharing), and then raising prices again, and again, and again.

And people kept paying for it. They, for some reason, couldn’t live without Netflix. And since it worked so well for them, all the other streamers decided to do the same things. Ad tiers, rate hikes, enshitification. What we have now, as exemplified by the current service from Amazon Prime Video, is a service that is objectively worse than cable. That isn’t hyperbole; when you look at what they provide, and what you get, cable actually seems like a better deal.

Let’s walk through this. If you subscribe to Amazon Prime for the video, you get a library of shows and movies, with new episodes, and new movies, released once a week. You get ads, and a lot of them. And you get a lot of regurgitated content used to fill in the ranks and make it look like there’s more content people want than actually is in there. Cable does the same thing. New shows come out once a week. Most of the broadcast schedule is taken up with old content. And while you’re watching there are ads, at regular intervals, eating up a few minutes of your time during each break.

Hell, strictly speaking even if you unplugged your TV from cable broadcast you’re probably still paying a telecommunication company for your internet. For many people that’s still Comcast or Hugesnet or one of the other cable providers. If wanted, you could bundle your internet with cable, get both, and pay a lower cost overall in comparison to both services separately and… wow, that’s starting to sound a lot like the “deal” Amazon is giving, bundling shipping with video services for a “cheaper” package. What, exactly, is the true deal here, then?

Note, this is not me advocating for a return to cable. What I’m saying is that we basically have already moved back to cable, just with a different name to it. You can’t escape companies wanting to turn good products into shitty services, we’re just seeing it now from the very companies we championed as the ones that would save us from the shit. They didn’t, and now we’re going right back to where we were before and it sucks. They do it because they think they have us locked in and, for many of us, there really aren’t a lot of alternatives. Either you take the shittier service, with the ads and the bloat and the wasted time, or you unplug and miss out on anything.

Well, or you could find services you like, use them through a browser with an ad-blocker, and then fight against those same companies as they try to ruin ad-blockers and you find plugins to defeat their defeat code. It’s a back and forth war, but one that I feel is certainly worth fighting. Better that than just sucking it up and letting the services we like become shittier and shittier. It might be like a casino and, in the end, the house will win. But maybe if there’s enough of us rebelling then some new savior will come along to provide what we want without all the bloat.

Until they inevitably get shitty too. Well, now I’m sad and disappointed… Sigh.