Amazon wants you to spend the long weekend binge-watching ‘The Wire’


Amazon's vice president of Kindle, Peter Larsen, talked about the Amazon Fire TV in April  in New York City. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Ah, Memorial Day weekend. Time to kick back with something sizzling on the grill, a cold drink and -- if Amazon.com has anything to say about it -- enough popcorn to accommodate an end-to-end binge-watching of "The Wire."

Last month, HBO and Amazon announced an agreement to put free episodes from the past seasons of some of their most popular shows on Amazon Prime Instant Video subscription service. It marked the first time that HBO had agreed to stream any of its shows off of its own app, HBO Go.

Now, just in time for the holiday weekend, Amazon announced Wednesday that the first wave of its content from HBO has hit its online video streaming site. The first round of shows includes the entire run of "The Sopranos," "The Wire," "Deadwood," "Rome" and "Six Feet Under," among others. Amazon is also offering a handful of episodes from other popular, ongoing series, such as "Boardwalk Empire" and "True Blood" as part of the deal, which is supposed to give the tech giant more exclusive HBO content in the coming years.

This is part of a major effort by Amazon to pull more customers into its ecosystem and get them to become regular subscribers to its $99-a-year Prime service.

Here's the full list of shows coming to the service Tuesday, according to Amazon:

  • All seasons of revered classics such as The Sopranos, The Wire, Deadwood, Rome and Six Feet Under, and of recent favorites such as Eastbound & Down, Enlightened and Flight of the Conchords
  • Select seasons of current series such as True Blood, Boardwalk Empire andTreme
  • Epic miniseries, including Band of Brothers, The Pacific, John Adams, Parade’s End and Angels in America
  • Hit original movies like Mary and Martha, Temple Grandin and You Don’t Know Jack
  • Hilarious original comedy specials from Louis CK, Ellen DeGeneres, Lewis Black and Bill Maher
  • Pedigreed documentaries including When the Levees Broke, Ghosts of Abu Ghraib and the Autopsy and Iceman series

Amazon's deal with HBO adds a big feather to the company's video-streaming cap as it takes on Hulu Plus, Apple, Google and, of course, Netflix -- which itself announced Wednesday that its greatly  expanding its streaming empire in Europe. Amazon, which has had a much weaker selection of content than its competitors, has begun bidding much more aggressively for contracts -- something Netflix chief executive Reed Hastings noted in a Netflix earnings call last year. 

The race to provide better, exclusive content has helped improve consumers' options, though it may also behind recent price increases for Netflix and Amazon as the companies deal with fast growth and rising acquisition costs.  Netflix just raised rates by $1 a month for new subscribers. Amazon announced in March that it was raising its annual Prime subscription rate, which also includes free two-day shipping, to $99 from $79. 

In such a competitive market, giving customers access to prized programming is key. Consumers are less likely to question a price increase if they get to watch their favorite programming in a convenient way.

Prime Video has clearly become a much larger focus for Amazon, which has also launched its own original series and released a video set-top box, the Amazon Fire  TV.

Controlling how consumers get access to television programming and movies gives tech companies like Amazon an easy path into the living room -- where Americans still spend a lot of time in front of the big screen.

(Disclosure: Amazon.com chief executive Jeffrey Bezos is the owner of The Washington Post.)

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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