Amazon’s “Transparent” flash sale on Prime membership today is great strategy

What, so you don’t want unlimited free shipping and free awesome TV?
What, so you don’t want unlimited free shipping and free awesome TV?
Image: Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP
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For today (Sept. 25) and today only, you can sign up for an Amazon Prime membership for $67—a third less than its normal price of $99 per year. With it, you get free two-day shipping on your purchases, unlimited cloud photo storage, and access to Amazon’s wide library of TV shows and movies on Instant Video. It’s an excellent deal and it expires tonight at 11:59pm PT.

The hook for the deal—and the theme of its marketing—is Transparent. If you go to today, you will be met with a large, page-wide banner featuring the cast of Transparent and some text bragging about its five Emmy wins last week.

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Image: Amazon

If you haven’t checked out Transparent yet, you’re doing yourself a disservice. It’s the deeply moving and often funny account of Maura (Jeffrey Tambor), the former patriarch of a family who embraces her true identity as a transgender woman. The show could have easily been on a channel like HBO, but, instead, it’s on Amazon—the global e-commerce giant that’s not exactly known (yet) for churning out its own quality TV shows.

Therein lies the company’s current problem: Despite Transparent‘s universal critical acclaim, Amazon Instant Video—the streaming service on which the show appears—is still somewhat of an afterthought.

If you sign up for an Amazon Prime membership, you get Instant Video, and thus shows like Transparent, automatically. Weirdly, not every Prime subscriber is aware of that fact. And many of those who are aware don’t take advantage of it. One study conducted last year showed that a third of Prime members never use the streaming video service.

Certainly, Instant Video is not the only enticing aspect of a Prime membership, nor is it perhaps the most important one. Amazon doesn’t expect the bulk of its subscribers to be signing up specifically for the streaming service. But this Transparent marketing stunt is, arguably, the first time the company has put Instant Video center stage. Transparent gives Amazon its first real opportunity to redefine what Amazon Prime is. It’s not merely a free shipping service that happens to come with some free shows and movies—it can also primarily be a streaming video service that happens to give free shipping as an added perk to its members.

Much of the narrative about Amazon Instant Video is concentrated on how it stacks up against the streaming industry leader, Netflix, and to a lesser extent, Hulu and even HBO Now. For those counting, the $67 yearly subscription amounts to a lovely $5.58 per month—over $3 per month less than a standard subscription to Netflix. Amazon also recently announced you can download its content to watch online, an option that Netflix says it doesn’t want or need.

Amazon now includes a lot more video content—both in the form of its own original shows like Transparent or the new Top Gear, and in exclusive streaming deals for other shows like USA’s Mr. Robot. And the amount of programming will only continue to grow.

Instant Video is a valuable service, with lots of good offerings, that could, in theory, legitimately compete with Netflix. Neither Amazon nor Netflix divulge viewership numbers, but they actually have similar subscriber figures. Netflix has about 65 million subscribers, while Amazon Prime is estimated to have somewhere around 50 million. But Netflix, of course, has the advantage of being solely a streaming service, while that’s only a small part of Prime.

But if this Transparent gimmick is any indication, Amazon plans to put its shows front and center. A year from now, it could be the thing that brings in new subscribers, instead of a small bonus that many of them don’t care about.