Amazon Prime video: The little search engine that couldn’t

In 2019, Amazon Prime had 65,504 distinct titles on its platform, compared to Netflix’s 7,177.
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Amazon Prime has over 200 million subscribers globally. In India, it has nearly 22.3 million subscribers. 

Many streaming services had teething troubles like bad interfaces or a poor search engine. Over time, these OTT platforms iron out the kinks. Surprisingly, this does not appear to be the case for Amazon, one of the biggest companies in the world with unlimited resources at its disposal.

An application engineer at Oracle, AB Satyaprakash, pointed out the shortcomings of Prime Video’s search function.

Interestingly, Amazon accounts for 54 percent of all product searches on the internet and has one of the best recommendation systems and search engines in the business. However, Amazon Prime Video–available in nearly 200 countries– has a bad search engine. To make matters worse, Prime Video’s clunky UI is a real pain in the neck.


The Prime model is unique and, in many ways, hard to emulate. Amazon has truly built a moat with its loyalty programme. The OTT platform is a part of the bigger offering; Prime subscribers also get access to a music streaming service and one-day delivery at a throwaway price. 

For Amazon, the whole idea of Prime could be customer retention. In 2016, more than 90 percent of Amazon’s Prime subscribers in the US renewed for a second year. For an e-commerce company, a retention rate of more than 30 percent is top-drawer. In other words, Amazon can afford to overlook the complaints about the terrible search engine on Prime video. 

Meanwhile, for a company like Netflix, offering subscribers a good search experience is key to its business: A bad search experience could lead to the subscriber not renewing their account, and drive the churn rate.


Jeff Bezos once said that if we have 4.5 million customers, we shouldn’t have one but 4.5 million stores. Translation: Delivering highly personalised and curated products and services based on the users’ tastes and preferences is the utmost priority for Amazon.

However, it would be wrong to say that Amazon is not bothered. On the contrary, a lot of work has been done over the years, and Amazon has spent a lot of money on improving its recommendation engine. In fact, Amazon has been using algorithms for recommendations since 1998.

Around 35 percent of Amazon’s sales are driven by its recommendation engine. However, the algorithm behind Amazon Prime Video is somehow not up to scratch. And that’s not a recent trend. Users have been bringing up the issue for a while now on social media and Amazon forums.

Algorithms play an important role in keeping the viewers hooked. The success of companies such as Netflix and Spotify is driven by their superior recommendation engines.

Yearly, Netflix saves billions of dollars by recommending the right content. In 2006, Netflix offered prize money of £1 million to anyone who could improve their algorithm. 

Every algorithm is different, and not all recommendation algorithms are the same. For example, Netflix uses a different methodology to recommend movies and TV shows to its users compared to Amazon. Netflix uses fuzzy matching, which means incorrectly spelt queries will not impact the results much. Fuzzy matching makes the user’s search experience more intuitive. That does not seem to be the case for Amazon Prime Video.

Content overload?

The content on Netflix is properly categorised and tagged according to its genre, casts, directors etc. Meanwhile, Amazon Prime leaves a bad impression. Though Prime has more content than Netflix, Amazon has not been able to leverage it because of its poor UX, UI and search features.

Amazon Prime has one of the largest streaming libraries. It must come as a surprise for many, but most of the content on Amazon Prime is user uploaded. So anybody who owns the distribution right to a film would be able to upload it on Prime for free. According to a 2020 report by the Wallstreet Journal, almost two-thirds of the titles on Amazon Prime Video are uploaded by users. 

The content on Prime is substantially higher than on Netflix, Hulu or HBO Max. As of December 2019, Amazon Prime had 65,504 distinct titles on its platform, compared to Netflix’s 7177. The content overload could be another reason for the bad search experiences.

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