Would you like to watch one of these films in a public library? You can probably find a shelf of DVDs there. But you won’t find any electronic access to these movies. They’re trapped in individual subscriber accounts via Prime Video.
Amazon’s treatment of other media companies also should make you squirm. Are you a rival streamer who needs to get onto Fire Stick? Amazon has a price for that, and if you’re HBO Max, it might involve renewing your Amazon Web Service contract. And maybe you’ll just have to wait a year or so, as Peacock+ did, for negotiations with Amazon to work out.
Oh, and if you’re a small-fry streamer, the kind documentarians depend on? You just might be out in the cold. Ovid, a small streaming service that carries high-quality documentaries, can’t get a reply from Amazon, although it has repeatedly sought a channel on Amazon’s website. And there’s no one to ask why.
Amazon’s market power, which comes from not only its size but also its many overlapping businesses, is already cause for alarm among those who advocate for stronger antitrust laws. Adding MGM to their arena of power in the still-emerging streaming marketplace would further limit competition and innovation.
Consumers as well as creators need to embrace antitrust as a lever that can bring more diversity and competition into the streaming marketplace. Success could mean creators are better enabled to tell stories for a dynamic society. Inaction could mean propping up business models that just help companies can sell more shoes.
Patricia Aufderheide is a professor in the School of Communication at American University and the author of the book “Documentary Film: A Very Short Introduction.”