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Amazon Streaming Jammed Up



By Duane Thresher, Ph.D.          August 11, 2020

If you use Amazon video streaming -- and given its various guises and massive popularity you probably do -- then you have probably been frustrated since late last year by its unwatchable "stuttering" (buffering), particularly if you try to use a large monitor and/or if you try to use it on Friday or Saturday evenings or holidays (i.e. non-business days, which is every day during the current Coronavirus Scare) and/or if you are paying for it. If you call up Amazon to complain and can understand the foreigner speaking at all, you will be told it is either your computer's fault or your Internet Service Provider's (ISP's) fault, even though you never got a chance to say what your computer is or who your ISP is. If you call up your ISP to complain and can understand the foreigner speaking at all, you will be told it is either your computer's fault or your streaming service's fault, even though you never got a chance to say what your computer is or who your streaming service is, and you will still be offered a supposedly faster, much more expensive Internet service plan, even though your current plan explicitly lists streaming as what you can do with it. Unless you are an IT expert like myself, there is no way to know who is lying, so you can know how to fix your problem. Here I show that Amazon is lying and you should get rid of them as your streaming service.

When you think of Amazon video streaming, you think of Amazon Prime Video. When you sign up and pay $120+ for a year of Amazon Prime, usually to get "free" second-day shipping on Amazon.com, Prime Video comes with the deal. Or, without Amazon Prime, you can rent à la carte from Prime Video (yes, Amazon's use of the word "Prime" is a confusing mess).

However, IMDb (Internet Movie Database) TV is another popular video streaming service and IMDb is owned and operated by Amazon. IMDb TV is "free", after signing up, but all the videos (movies, TV series) come with commercials in them, just like normal TV. You can think of IMDb TV as Amazon commercial TV (although Amazon Prime Video often has commercials at the beginning of its videos).

Amazon, via Amazon Web Services (AWS), is a leading provider of servers (computers "serving" data, like videos) for businesses, including itself. Amazon Prime Video thus uses Amazon's own servers. IMDb TV, being owned and operated by Amazon, also uses Amazon's servers. So, stuttering by either video streaming service could be because of Amazon's servers, i.e. Amazon's fault.

Popcornflix is another popular video streaming service. Popcornflix is "free", without even signing up, but all the videos come with commercials in them, just like normal TV and IMDb TV. Popcornflix is owned and operated by Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment (yes, the creators of the Chicken Soup for the Soul book series, which are advertised a lot on Popcornflix) so uses servers different from Amazon's.

(Netflix, a popular subscription video streaming service like Amazon Prime Video, with which it competes, is not owned by Amazon but uses Amazon's servers. I stopped using Netflix a couple of years ago, when the selection quality had decreased so dramatically, and the price had increased so dramatically, that I'd had enough. Because it's using the same servers, I'll bet Netflix has the same stuttering problems as Amazon Prime Video and IMDb TV. Netflix was once down for a day because of problems with Amazon's servers.)

Amazon Prime Video advertises that it supports "HD" (high definition) or "1080p" -- both of which are names for a screen resolution of 1920 x 1080 -- or better. The higher the screen resolutions of the viewers, the more data has to be served by the servers, i.e. the more burden on the servers, which may not be able to keep up if demand is too high, i.e. there are too many viewers, for the number of servers there are. This results in frequent stuttering (or buffering, often indicated by some sort of clock icon), which makes a video unwatchable. Despite its advertising, Amazon hopes everyone will watch on the tiny screens of their smartphones.

For the last two years I've used a bottom-of-the-line laptop with a screen of resolution 1366 x 768 and an output for driving an external monitor of resolution 1920 x 1080. Before the end of last year, I always successfully and often streamed Amazon Prime Video through this laptop to the 1920 x 1080 external monitor, as well as to the laptop's 1366 x 768 screen.

The bottom-of-the-line laptop shows my problem with Amazon video streaming was not due to my computer. You too should dismiss the idea your problem with Amazon video streaming is your computer's fault. (By "computer" I mean any device you stream on, since it really is a computer, and including any software, which for streaming these days is usually a browser.) You too have probably already successfully used that same computer for Amazon video streaming or you would have given up and never used Amazon video streaming again. If your computer has changed at all since late last year, it has probably been upgraded, which should make streaming better, not worse.

So the unwatchable stuttering on Amazon video streaming since late last year is either Amazon's fault or my/your ISP's fault. It could be my/your ISP's fault if their cables are simply not capable of carrying the amount of data that they have promised all their customers they would be able to (although if you read the small print of your contract with them, which no one does, you'll see they have promised nothing). This "bottleneck" would also cause stuttering.

Given rampant IT incompetence, it could easily be Amazon's fault or my/your ISP's fault. But to fix our problem -- by getting a new streaming service or a new ISP -- we need to know whose fault it is.

During the last two years, I first had Comcast Xfinity (cable) for a year as my ISP and then had Verizon FIOS (fiber optic) for a year as my ISP. That in itself would indicate -- but not prove, since Verizon service could also be deteriorating -- that my problem with Amazon video streaming since late last year was not due to my ISP. Mind you, I am no fan of either ISP. They are both IT incompetent. (Interestingly, Verizon FIOS and Comcast Xfinity advertise a lot on IMDb TV -- the commercials of both are as awful as their service -- although both may be targeting me, a former customer, via my IP address.)

Starting around Thanksgiving of last year, it became impossible to do Amazon video streaming to my 1920 x 1080 external monitor. The stuttering made it unwatchable. On Friday or Saturday evenings or holidays, and even during the evenings of some other weekdays, it became impossible to do Amazon video streaming even to my laptop's 1366 x 768 screen.

I still wasn't sure if the fault was Amazon's or Verizon's (and I was disgusted with both for other reasons). So a few days ago, I performed a definitive test, like the MIT engineer I am, to see whose fault it was.

On a Saturday evening, I tried to stream an IMDb TV movie to my laptop's 1366 x 768 screen. It stuttered so much it was unwatchable. I immediately tried to stream a Popcornflix movie to my laptop's 1366 x 768 screen. It worked perfectly. So good in fact that I immediately tried to stream the same Popcornflix movie to my 1920 x 1080 external monitor via the laptop. It worked perfectly, for the whole rest of the movie.

So, same day, Saturday, same time of day, evening, same computer, bottom-of-the-line laptop, same ISP, Verizon. Only difference was not using Amazon streaming.

Lest you think it was just that one IMDb TV movie, it was not a popular new movie, just an old one, and the evening before, Friday, I had tried to stream it too, with the same result, but then had immediately tried to watch another IMDb TV movie, a black and white one in fact, which should require serving less data, and that movie too stuttered so much it was unwatchable.

"Aha!", you say, "you didn't consider violations of net neutrality; maybe Verizon is throttling Amazon streaming". First, this seems very unlikely given the popularity of net neutrality and the bad publicity for violators. If Verizon was throttling Amazon, Amazon could and would make this very public, which would be a PR disaster for Verizon (remember all their feel-good advertising on IMDb TV). Even if it were quietly true, Amazon could stop this throttling by paying Verizon not to, but would refuse to. The crux of net neutrality is that ISPs think, probably rightfully, that content providers like Amazon streaming should pay to use the ISP's cables; see my article on Net Neutrality. Finally, why wouldn't Verizon also throttle Popcornflix streaming since it's a content provider too?

Thus, the stuttering is Amazon's fault and they are lying when they say it isn't. You should get rid of Amazon as your streaming service.

Gigacorporation Amazon is aggressively advertising its video streaming, to drive out smaller video streaming services, which all others are, and taking your money knowing they cannot provide what they promise. It's especially galling because the Coronavirus Scare has kept everyone at home and given Amazon a captive audience, to get even more rich off of, even after they have already become unimaginably rich during the Coronavirus Scare by providing through-the-mail goods via Amazon.com. Amazon could easily afford to put some money into more video streaming servers, or to pay ISPs not to throttle them, but chooses not to, for massive profit's sake.

Like the notorious robber barons of old, Amazon puts massive profits above everything else: quality, integrity, customer good will, the good of America, etc. It's part of The Decline and Fall of Amazon.