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Amazon adds Universal movies to its streaming video catalog

Laying the groundwork for its forthcoming media tablet, Amazon.com Inc. has added Universal Pictures movies to its digital video offerings.

The online retailer reached a deal with NBCUniversal that will bring to 9,000 the number of movies and TV shows that customers can watch instantly, at no additional charge, through the Amazon Prime membership program. The program, with an annual fee of $79, also gives subscribers a discount on shipping.

Such content deals will be crucial for Amazon as it prepares to introduce a new tablet for watching movies and TV shows, reading books and listening to music. The media device is expected to debut in October and compete directly with Apple Inc.'s hot-selling iPad.

“The tablet is really a defensive move,” said Colin Gillis, research director for BGC Financial. “The tablet is becoming the front door for commerce.... Amazon wants to be there. It doesn’t want to get boxed out by anybody, including Apple.”

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Among the movies to be offered through Amazon’s Universal deal are “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Babe” and “Being John Malkovich.”

The Amazon announcement is another sign of intensifying competition in the digital marketplace, reflecting changes in how consumers are entertained. Earlier this week, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said it would begin offering 20,000 movies and TV shows to rent or purchase through the Wal-Mart website.

“We are very excited to offer Prime members popular Universal films at no additional cost,” Cameron Janes, director of Amazon Instant Video, said in a statement.

The online retailer still has a long way to go to catch up with the likes of Netflix Inc., which makes about 20,000 movies and TV shows available online to subscribers.

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dawn.chmielewski@latimes.com


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