Amazon has bundled unlimited streaming of movies and television shows into the Prime subscription service which offers members free delivery of many products. Around 5,000 movies and television shows included with an Amazon Prime membership can be watched instantly on Microsoft Windows and Apple Mac personal computers and nearly 200 compatible models of internet-connected televisions, Blu-ray disc players and set-top boxes. Although currently no match for Netflix, Amazon is well-placed to become a leading online video distributor, particularly in Europe.

“In addition to now offering unlimited, commercial-free, instant streaming of 5,000 movies and TV shows to Amazon Prime members, we continue to offer all customers more than 90,000 movies and TV shows through Amazon Instant Video,” explained Cameron Janes, the director of Amazon Instant Video. “With Amazon Instant Video customers can rent or purchase hit movies, such as The Social Network as well as purchase the latest TV shows available the day-after they broadcast.”

The Amazon service is currently restricted to the United States. The present selection is more limited than Netflix and the client device support is less extensive. Titles available for free to Amazon Prime members include movies like Chariots of Fire, which are well past their prime, as well as timeless television classics like Fawlty Towers from BBC Worldwide. That said, there are also recent titles, available for free to members.

Amazon is presumably paying at least a minimum guarantee and probably a commission on each view to include them, in the hope of promoting its membership service and other rental and retail opportunities. Not least, it draws attention to its much larger library of titles available on Instant Video for rental or purchase.

Netflix is continuing to extend its range of programming, adding classic television shows from the CBS library, such as Cheers and Frasier. It means that Netflix now has shows from all four broadcast networks.

“More and more, people want to be able to access our programming on a wide variety of platform,” said Scott Koondel, President of Distribution, CBS Television Distribution. “We will continue to pursue additional non-exclusive distribution partners that are additive to our overall business.”

Amazon has the advantage of an international brand. As informitv reported recently, Amazon is in the process of acquiring LoveFilm International, the London-based DVD rental and online streaming company in which it already had a significant shareholding. LoveFilm offers a similar service to Netflix in the United Kingdom and a number of other European countries. In Europe at least, Amazon has the potential to become the leading online provider of movies and “box set” television titles.

Reports have been circulating that Google, which currently has a very limited movie rental presence on YouTube, is planning to launch a paid online video service in Europe. However, Google has denied the suggestion, saying in a statement: “Today, YouTube is focused on building out and improving its current US-based rental offering. While we aim to always push all of our products out globally to our community, we have no plans to launch a European rentals service in the near future.”

Meanwhile, Arqiva is looking for an investor, or more likely a buyer, for the SeeSaw service in launched from the bones of the abandoned Project Kangaroo, which it acquired for a reported £8 million. The transmission company, which is also a partner in YouView, has appointed Ingenious Corporate Finance to find “an investment partner”.

“The time is right for further investment in SeeSaw and we need to build on the success of launching this pioneering new service for the benefit of both consumers and advertisers,” said Nick Thompson, the managing director of the Arqiva broadcast and media business. “We plan to look at all investment options to support SeeSaw’s long-term success.”

It has never been clear how SeeSaw fits in the Arqiva portfolio, particularly as a partner in YouView. It could be time for a major player like Google or Amazon to step in to do a deal. Otherwise it faces an uncertain future in a world in which online video is increasingly going to be viewed on devices and displays other than personal computers.

There is no word as yet whether the Amazon Prime instant streaming service will be extended to Europe, but it seems highly likely.

A few weeks before the announcement, our partners at TDG Research asked a sample of just over a hundred Netflix subscribers in the United States that were also members of Amazon Prime what they would do in the event that the latter were to offer a comparable service at no extra cost. Some 36% said they would cancel their Netflix service and use Amazon Prime instead, while just under a third said they would use both. Fewer than 10% said they would keep the Netflix service and not use Amazon Prime, while just over a fifth remained uncertain, given that it was a hypothetical question.

A sample of over 400 Netflix users that do not subscribe to Amazon Prime were also asked what they would do. In this case, 32% said they would cancel their Netflix service and use Amazon Prime instead, while 10% said they would use both. Some 27% said they would keep Netflix and not subscribe to Amazon Prime, and 30% were uncertain. These results appear to be encouraging for Amazon, although survey responses to not necessarily translate into actual behaviour.

As a leading retailer of physical media, like DVD and Blu-ray discs, Amazon is well positioned for any transition to digital delivery, as it has already demonstrated with its Kindle platform in the case of print. Amazon revealed in its last results that it sold more electronic books in Kindle format on than paperback books and three times as many as hardbacks. It will be interesting to see if and when Amazon reports that it rents more online videos than it sells physical discs.