Amazon has been spending time and money building up its Prime Instant online video service, but so far it hasn’t spent much time telling people about it: It’s very easy to invest a lot of time on Amazon.com without ever learning that the site has a catalog of movies and TV shows that’s starting to rival the stuff on Netflix. Or that many of those videos are free for anyone who has Amazon Prime, its $80-a-year subscription/shipping service.

Amazon’s approach to marketing, or lack of it, confuses lots of people in the online video world. But it helps explain why Amazon’s market share appears to be lagging way, way behind Netflix.

Here’s a sign that Amazon may be rethinking its strategy: A TV commercial aimed solely at promoting Prime Instant Video. This one won’t win any awards for creativity, but it is a straight-ahead ad outlining exactly what Amazon has to offer. BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield saw it over the holiday break, running on AMC Networks’ IFC channel:*

In a post (registration required), Greenfield describes the ad as “Amazon’s First Attack Ad Targeted at Netflix,” but that seems like a stretch.**

The spot’s one reference to Netflix is an oblique one, at the 1:24 mark, and if he didn’t superimpose the words “Netflix Attack” on the clip you’d be very hard-pressed to notice it. Here’s the reference in its entirety: “Who needs to subscribe to another video service, you get video, great movies right there on-demand as part of Prime.”

So it’s not the kind of thing that’s going to make Netflix CEO Reed Hastings sweat. On the other hand, Hastings doesn’t need to see an ad to keep Amazon top of mind: He’s quite aware that once Jeff Bezos decides he’s really serious about a market, he usually ends up owning it.

* Oddly, the original ad doesn’t seem to appear on Amazon’s YouTube page, or anywhere else on the site.

** Not that there’s anything wrong with blog headlines that stretch a teeny bit. They’re fun!



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