Amazon Massively Inflates Its Streaming Library Size

Amazon counts individual episodes, not whole series, as "TV shows," which makes its Prime streaming catalog seem 10 times bigger than it actually is.

Amazon boasts that it has "more than 17,000 movies and television shows" on Amazon Prime Instant Video, its streaming service that competes with Netflix and Hulu Plus. The "17,000" figure has been widely parroted in the media, but where does the number come from?

Upon closer examination, the total number of movies and TV shows available to Amazon Prime members, who pay $79 a year, is actually far lower. Only 1,745 movies are available to stream on the company's Prime service, and just roughly 150 TV series. The "17,000" figure is not only misleading to consumers, but a faulty indicator of Amazon's streaming library's strength versus competitors and traditional entertainment offerings.

Amazon reached that number by counting each episode of a TV series as an individual TV show. For example, Amazon does not count 24 as one TV show; rather, it counts every episode in all eight seasons toward its library of 17,000 movies and television shows. So, according to Amazon's logic, Kiefer Sutherland stars in 192 TV shows. Amazon counts The X-Files more than 200 times and Grey's Anatomy 170 times. Sure, there's an arguable distinction between all the offshoots of Power Rangers (Mighty Morphin, Dino Thunder, Space Patrol Delta). But by Amazon's figures, Power Rangers-related episodes are counted as about 715 shows in its streaming library—that is, 4.2% of the 17,000 movies and television shows Amazon says it offers. 

By Amazon's figures, Power Rangers-related episodes are counted as 700 shows in its streaming library—4.2% of the 17,000 movies and television shows Amazon says it offers.

Again, by this math, the average number of times a single TV series on Amazon's Prime service is counted toward its library is about 100.

Amazon confirmed that the "17,000 titles count is inclusive of both TV episodes and movies." Amazon did not return multiple requests for comment on whether the company felt this count was misleading to consumers. However, the company did say that it does not count HD TV episodes and movies separately from standard-definition content. (If it did count them separately, the number of movies and TV shows would be even more inflated.)

Netflix, too, is said to have tens of thousands of movies and TV shows in its library. An Associated Press article earlier this week on the company's online library reported that "Netflix offers more than 60,000 [streaming] titles." To be clear, Netflix does not promote its library's specific size (beyond saying "thousands" of titles are available, which is true), but the actual number of movies and TV shows available online is actually far lower than 60,000.

Netflix declined to provide the specific tally. "We do not disclose the number of viewables on Netflix," a spokesperson said. "A primary reason is that the title count fluctuates a lot as titles come in and out of window. Additionally, while we do have the biggest streaming library, we don’t want people to measure us by title count. The number of titles does not equate to member happiness or viewing pleasure."

Daniel Choi, the creator of InstantWatcher.com, a website that uses Netflix's API to track streaming movies and TV shows, says the number of movies and TV shows available on Netflix's streaming service is significantly less than 60,000. "According to our count, it's about 13,000," Choi explains, indicating that about 9,500 of those titles are movies. "But there are two different ways of counting. We count all television series as one title each. If you split up the TV series into individual episodes, that count will go up."

Should Amazon change its content-counting practices? Does a "title" include only movies and TV series (rather than TV episodes)? Does a TV "show" mean a TV "series" or a TV "episode"? Is Amazon's "17,000" stat misleading to consumers?

"I think my count probably represents better what people think of in terms of the number of titles," Choi says. "Usually you become a fan of a TV series—you don't cherry-pick individual episodes."

[Image: Flickr user Tristan Schmurr]

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5 Comments

  • billbobaggins

    Their "unlimited streaming" is VERY misleading. I signed up for Prime and wanted to watch shows that aren't even popular, and they still want me to pay for every episode. So much for "unlimited". 

  • Chris

    Not that Amazon's the first to do this. It wasn't so long ago that Comcast used to parade around claiming they had the most HD channels of anyone and it was revealed that they were counting each individual broadcast of an HD PPV movie/show/etc as a "channel". I do believe they got slapped down for it though.

  • Hiram

    Personally I am okay with the way they count are counting it.  They are correct, in terms of my entertainment hours.  17,000 "individual shows" is far more meaningful to me than 1,745 movies and 150 series.  

    Frankly, I wish the other services counted their libraries the same way.

  • arlene zeichner

    Interesting.  Also important is the fact that Amazon Instant Video has a lot more titles - and when you are a Prime sub, it is not immediately clear that Instant Video titles are not include in the <free> fare.</free>