Neflix, Amazon, Hulu Plus, HBO, Dish. The list of companies that offer (or plan to offer) streaming media as an alternative to conventional cable and satellite TV continues to grow. The latest attendee at the cord-cutting party is Overstock, the giant discount online retailer, which plans to bring roughly 30,000 on-demand titles to the Web later this year and eventually launch a streaming service.
Overstock's official announcement is short on details, so it's too soon to know if it will be able to compete with the popular Amazon Prime streaming service. Overstock also plans to emulate Netflix and Amazon by offering originally-produced programming, as well as movies and television shows.
Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne announced the new service yesterday and made it clear that the company has Amazon in its crosshairs: "We will be a competitor to Amazon," Byrne said at an industry conference in Miami. (His remarks were first reported by The Hollywood Reporter.)
Like Amazon, which offers streaming video as part of its Amazon Prime subscription service, Overstock will offer its service through Club O, a frequent buyer rewards program. Both loyalty programs include free shipping and other benefits.
Overstock's entry into the streaming space is good news for consumers — competition between providers will likely keep prices down — but until the new service actually launches and we know more about available content, and how much it will cost, we'll just have to contain our excitement.
Club O is cheaper than Amazon Prime, at $20 a year compared to $100 annually. Byrne said the streaming service will come with an additional yearly charge, but he did not specify how much.
It's not possible to make a head-to-comparison between Prime and Overstock's upcoming offering, but Byrne says Club O will be a better deal. "We think our loyalty program is better than Amazon's," Bryne says. "We give you five to twenty-five percent back on what you spend. So we pay people back for their digital downloads."
In addition to the price uncertainty, there's the question of programming. The real value of on-demand and streaming services lies in the breath and quality of its offerings. Simply offering thousands of "B movies" and third-rate sitcoms won't convince many people to drop cable, or switch from Amazon.
Overstock's entry into the streaming-video market, comes just a few weeks after Dish TV's parent company unveiled Sling TV, a $20-a-month streaming service that's expected to go live in a few months. (Last week, I wrote about an online calculator that helps you compare the costs of the various new services, to see how much you can save by "cutting the cord.")
Like any other digital service, streaming video poses challenges for consumers looking to find the best deals. However, that's a good problem to have. The cable and satellite markets have been frozen for years, and consumers have had little or no leverage against the giants. Thanks to new streaming services like the one from Overstock, the power is shifting toward the consumer.