Subscribers to Amazon Prime (NASDAQ: AMZN) will be the first audiences to watch new PBS series Mercy Street, the Civil War-era drama produced by Ridley Scott. They are able to stream the premiere episode on the SVOD service's apps three days before it debuts on broadcast on Jan. 17, adding a new dimension to the hyper-competitive content licensing race between the retail giant and other top streaming services like Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX) and Hulu.
Additional episodes of Mercy Street will be available in-season, just seven days after they air on television. The shortened waiting period is part of a new, additional content licensing agreement between Amazon and PBS.
The latest announcement reinforces the relationship between PBS and Amazon Prime Video, which was expanded in late June. Downton Abbey's previous five seasons are licensed exclusively to Amazon, as are all of the network's new Masterpiece series like Golden Globe winner Wolf Hall, period mystery Grantchester, and bodice-ripper Poldark.
If British period pieces don't seem like fodder for a content battle royale, take note that Netflix is clinging fiercely to another Masterpiece series, Sherlock, to which it has exclusive rights. (However, viewers of the series' recent one-off special, The Abominable Bride, will have to wait much longer than a week to stream it on the SVOD service.)
The seven-day delay in availability – short by streaming video standards – signals that PBS and other broadcasters are finding new ways to leverage online video as effective distribution outlets for their content. Teaming more closely with Amazon on faster content availability than previous licensing deals – where an entire season typically airs on broadcast before being available to streaming services – could boost both the network and SVOD service in viewers' eyes. Amazon's strategy to lock in most of PBS' Masterpiece content makes it an online hub for those series, providing another reason for viewers to subscribe to its Prime service.
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