TOKYO -- Streaming-media giant Netflix's planned September entry into the Japanese market has spurred rivals to step up, with Amazon.com set to bring its streaming service for paying members into Japan as well.
Amazon's Prime Instant Video service gives Amazon Prime members unlimited access to its video lineup. Prime members also get access to a variety of other services, including the option to choose a delivery date for online purchases for free. A Prime membership costs 3,900 yen ($32.50) a year in Japan, equivalent to 325 yen per month.
While other streaming-media providers have users pay by the month, Amazon instead added Prime Instant Video to the other benefits of Prime membership, aiming to create synergy with its e-commerce business. The company launched the video streaming service in the U.S. in 2011.
Japan will be the fifth country to get access to Prime Instant Video. Amazon plans to offer a broad lineup including U.S. and Japanese films, TV shows and cartoons, though it has not yet said how many titles will be available. The company has also produced a number of independent programs, spending $1.3 billion on entertainment content in 2014. It will join hands with Japanese production companies on new programming.
Japan's Culture Convenience Club will introduce new digital distribution plans this month. The digital-only plan, priced at 933 yen a month before tax, will give members unlimited access to older titles and let them view up to two newer videos. The company, which operates the Tsutaya video rental chain, will also offer a combined digital distribution and DVD-by-mail plan at 2,417 yen a month.
The streaming video library will contain about 50,000 titles initially. The rental service encompasses roughly 170,000 CDs and about 300,000 titles on DVD and other media. Users will be able to stream or download videos, letting them watch movies even while on the go in areas with poor connection speeds.
Netflix's service, to launch Sept. 2, will be priced at 650 yen a month before tax. The company will work with Fuji Television and other partners to expand its exclusive programming.
The dTV service offered by Japanese wireless carrier NTT Docomo and other companies, which costs 500 yen a month, has a library of 120,000 titles. Hulu, operated in Japan by a unit of Nippon Television Network, plans to try broadcasting the first episode of dramas on television while distributing the remainder digitally.
Netflix has enjoyed rapid growth in the U.S. thanks to strong original programming. How distributors fare will depend on whether they can distinguish themselves with a particular broad or high-quality lineup.
Elsewhere in the content distribution market, Apple, Japan's Line and other companies are offering competing streaming music services. Business models have shifted away from paying by the song, giving consumers more options but forcing companies to rethink their strategies.