Amazon Becomes Netflix’s Only Competitor

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Netflix Inc. (NASDAQ: NFLX) posted a breathtaking quarter. Revenue reached $4.0 billion, up from $2.9 billion in the year-ago period. The company had 137 million paid subscribers at the end of the quarter, compared with 109 million in the same period the year before.

The only company with the video streaming heft to challenge it is Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN), which has a paid membership base of over 100 million. Almost all Amazon Prime members are believed to use the company’s streaming media service. And Amazon has and will invest billions of dollars in original programs.

Amazon has an advantage in the heft of its balance sheet and traffic to Amazon.com. Netflix probably has an advantage in streaming revenue. Because the rivals are so much smaller, the market for paid streaming media has become a market of two.

A small army of competition has started or will start to chase the two leaders. These include Hulu, new services from Walmart and Disney (which recently bought most of the assets of 21st Century Fox), as well as AT&T (which recently bought Time Warner) and Comcast (which owns NBC Universal). All of these are so far behind the leaders in the streaming media sector that they have no chance of catching up. They will spend billions to compete with one another for what eventually will be third place.

Amazon and Netflix have become much more than distributors. Each is a major studio that pushes out dozens of new programs a year. Their subscriber counts and earnings will show whether one takes the lead over the other, but each is already a winner in a business that has become a duopoly.