FTC Files Complaint Against Amazon Claiming E-commerce Behemoth Duped Consumers into Joining Prime Platform

The Federal Trade Commission is taking legal action against Amazon for what it claims has been a years-long effort by the e-commerce giant to enroll consumers into its Prime membership program without their consent, while also making it difficult for consumers to cancel their Prime subscriptions, which includes free access to the Prime Video service.

In the complaint, the FTC charges that Amazon used manipulative, coercive, or deceptive user-interface designs known as “dark patterns” to trick consumers into enrolling in automatically-renewing $14.99 monthly Prime subscriptions.

The e-commerce giant allegedly complicated the cancellation process for Prime subscribers who sought to end their membership. The FTC claims the primary purpose of the cancellation process was not to enable subscribers to cancel, but to stop them from doing so.

The government said Amazon management slowed or rejected changes that would’ve made it easier for users to cancel Prime because those changes adversely affected Amazon’s bottom line.

“Amazon tricked and trapped people into recurring subscriptions without their consent, not only frustrating users but also costing them significant money,” FTC Chair Lina Khan said in a statement. “These manipulative tactics harm consumers and law-abiding businesses alike. The FTC will continue to vigorously protect Americans from ‘dark patterns’ and other unfair or deceptive practices in digital markets.”

The FTC describes “dark patterns” as marketing practices that “trick or manipulate users into making choices they would not otherwise have made and that may cause harm,” which the agency said is in violation of the FTC Act, and the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act.

Specifically, the FTC alleges that during Amazon’s online checkout process, consumers were faced with numerous opportunities to subscribe to Prime. In many cases, the option to purchase items on Amazon without subscribing to Prime was more difficult for consumers to locate. In some cases, the button presented to consumers to complete their transaction did not clearly state that in choosing that option they were also agreeing to join Prime for a recurring subscription.

The FTC charged that Amazon put in place a cancellation process designed to deter consumers from successfully unsubscribing from Prime. Consumers who attempted to cancel Prime were faced with multiple steps to actually accomplish the task of cancelling, according to the complaint. Consumers had to first locate the cancellation link, which Amazon made difficult. Once they located the link, they were redirected to multiple pages that presented several offers to continue the subscription at a discounted price, to simply turn off the auto-renew feature, or to decide not to cancel. Only after clicking through these pages could consumers finally cancel the service.

The complaint notes that Amazon was aware of consumers being non-consensually enrolled and the complex and confusing process to cancel Prime that the company’s executives failed to take any meaningful steps to address the issues until they were aware of the FTC investigation. In the complaint, the FTC also alleges that Amazon attempted to delay and hinder its investigation in multiple instances.

The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. Amazon is based in Seattle.

Oscar-Nominated ‘Women Talking’ Free to Stream for Prime Members Through March 12

The Oscar-nominated film Women Talking is streaming on Prime Video at no additional cost to Prime members through March 12.

Prime members will exclusively be able to stream the Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay nominee at no additional cost. 

The Orion Pictures’ drama has been available to own digitally since Feb 21 from MGM, and on Blu-ray and DVD March 7 from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.

An adaptation of Miriam Toews’s internationally best-selling novel of the same name and inspired by true events, the film, about a remote colony’s fight for freedom against all odds, follows the women of an isolated religious community who grapple with reconciling their reality with their faith.

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Written and directed by Academy Award nominated filmmaker Sarah Polley, Women Talking stars Academy Award winner Frances McDormand (NomadlandThree Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), Critic’s Choice Award winner Rooney Mara (Carol, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), Emmy Award winner Claire Foy (“The Crown,” First Man), BAFTA Award winner Jessie Buckley (The Lost Daughter, Wild Rose), and Sheila McCarthy (I’ve Heard the Mermaids Sing), along with Emmy Award winner Ben Whishaw (“A Very English Scandal,” No Time to Die).

The 2023 Academy Awards will be given out March 12.

Amazon Raising Annual Prime Membership Fee $20, Q4 Subscription Revenue Up 15%

Amazon Feb. 3 announced it is raising the annual cost of its Prime Membership to $139, from $119. It is the company’s first price hike since 2018. The monthly Prime fee increases to $15 from $13.

Separately, the e-commerce behemoth reported fourth-quarter (ended Dec. 31, 2021) proprietary (excluding third-party sellers) online revenue of $66 billion, which was about 1% less than the $66.4 billion generated in the previous-year period. The segment includes media products available in both a physical and digital format, such as books, movies, TV shows, video games, music and software sold on a transactional basis.

Subscription revenue, which includes Amazon Prime Video monthly fees, increased 15% to more than $8.1 billion, compared with $7 billion a year ago.

“[With] the addition of marquee new entertainment like “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” and “Thursday Night Football,” and a plethora of new capabilities that we’re building in areas like Alexa, Ring, Grocery, Pharmacy, Amazon Care, Kuiper and Zoox, there’s a lot to look forward to in the months and years ahead,” CEO Andy Jassy said in a statement.

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Entertainment highlights in the quarter included the launch of new series “The Wheel of Time,” starring Rosamund Pike, ranked No. 1 in Nielsen’s rankings of streaming series the week of its premiere, with customers viewing more than 1 billion minutes of the series across its first three episodes.

Additional Prime Video series releases included the new comedy “Harlem,” the adult animated comedy “Fairfax,” and the final season of the sci-fi fan favorite “The Expanse.” Prime Video also announced that the first season of “Reacher,” a new series based on the international best-selling book Killing Floor by Lee Child, will be released on Feb. 4, and that “Diabolical,” an animated spinoff of the global hit series “The Boys,” is set to premiere in 2022.

The critically acclaimed Prime Video original film Being the Ricardos, starring Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem and directed by Aaron Sorkin, premiered in theaters and on the streamer; The Tender Bar, starring Ben Affleck and directed by George Clooney, premiered in theaters and on Prime Video; and the fourth and final installment of the franchise Hotel Transylvania: Transformania, featuring the voices of Selena Gomez and Andy Samberg, premiered on Prime Video.

Prime Video continued to garner significant awards recognition for its original series and movies. Being the Ricardos was nominated for two Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards (female actor in a leading role Nicole Kidman and male actor in a leading role Javier Bardem) and three Critics Choice Awards (lead actress Nicole Kidman, supporting actor J.K. Simmons, and original screenplay Aaron Sorkin). The Tender Bar was nominated for a SAG Award (male actor in a supporting role Ben Affleck). A Hero, the foreign-language feature from Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, was nominated for a Critics Choice Award (foreign language film) and shortlisted for the Academy Awards (international feature). “The Underground Railroad,” which earned seven Emmy nominations in 2021, was nominated for three Critics Choice Awards (limited series, lead actress Thuso Mbedu, and supporting actor William Jackson Harper) and two Independent Spirit Awards (new scripted series and female performer Thuso Mbedu).

The quarter marked Prime Video’s strongest viewership for live sports globally. The 2021-22 “Thursday Night Football” season streaming on Prime Video and Twitch delivered the highest average minute audience, a measurement of the average number of devices streaming the weekly game at any given minute since Amazon acquired shared rights in 2017.

In the U.K., the Manchester United vs. Arsenal soccer game on Dec. 2, 2021, became the most-watched Premier League match ever on the service, with an estimated viewership of more than 4 million. Plus, millions of rugby fans tuned in to the Autumn Nations Series, the first full competitive international rugby union series featuring the top Northern and Southern Hemisphere teams since 2019. In India, Prime Video made its first foray into live sports, streaming cricket matches between New Zealand and Bangladesh.

Prime Video debuted 28 local originals internationally, including Maradona: Blessed Dream (Argentina), Burning (Australia), Inside Edge Season 3 (India), and The Ferragnez — The Series (Italy). New locally produced series and movies launched in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

Ad-supported VOD platform IMDb TV launched “Judy Justice,” starring the Honorable Judy Sheindlin, a retired judge of the Manhattan Family Court and a TV judge for over 25 years. The series marked Amazon Studios’ largest-ever episode order for an original series with 120 episodes, and it is the first series to offer audiences a daily release cadence.

 

‘This Emotional Life,’ ‘Dr. Barry’ Among Titles Available on PBS Living Channel in February

“This Emotional Life” and “Dr. Barry” are among the shows available on the PBS Living Channel in February. 

PBS Living is available on Prime Video and Apple TV channels. The subscription rate is $2.99 per month with an Amazon Prime or Prime Video subscription. PBS Living is also available on Apple TV Channels in the Apple TV app at a subscription rate of $2.99 per month with no additional annual fees.

Due Feb. 16 is season one of “This Emotional Life.” The series explores ways people can improve social relationships, learn to cope with problems such as depression and anxiety, and become more positive and resilient individuals. Host Daniel Gilbert, Harvard psychologist and best-selling author of Stumbling on Happiness, talks with experts about the latest scientific understanding of human emotions and how we can find support for the issues we all face. Each episode weaves together scientific perspectives with the personal stories of ordinary people, complemented by insight from celebrities such as Chevy Chase, Larry David, Alanis Morissette, John Leguizamo, Katie Couric and Richard Gere, among many others.

Available Feb. 8 is season one of “Dr. Barry.” The series follows a big-hearted veterinarian who leaves his job at a corporate vet office to start his own practice helping animals in need. Dr. Barry and his new team struggle to build his new veterinarian practice in northeastern Canada, while using all the resources and friends he can find to help injured and orphaned animals of all kinds. Each episode tracks the story of a regular patient, a special rescue, or an animal release and looks at one of Dr. Barry’s special projects to help animals at risk.

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Season one of “Wonders of Mexico” starts streaming Feb. 1. In the series, viewers journey through the seasons and discover the diversity of wildlife and a mosaic of vast landscapes in the country. The series explores Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula — home to the Maya and a forest rich in wildlife, including monkeys, jaguars and vibrant tropical birds. Then viewers travel south to discover black bears, fiery volcanoes, exquisite birds and millions of monarch butterflies. Finally, they journey across northern Mexico and witness a desert rich in life. From prairie dogs fighting snakes and bats hunting scorpions to tiny owls living in giant cacti, Mexico’s animals have found clever ways to inhabit Mexico’s landscape and survive against the odds.

Other titles coming to the PBS Living Channel in February include Israel: The Royal Tour, Mexico: The Royal Tour and Trinity: Classically Irish.

New Seasons of ‘Antiques Roadshow,’ ‘Poetry in America’ Headed to PBS Living Channel in January

New seasons of “Antiques Roadshow” and “Poetry in America” are among the programs streaming on the PBS Living channel in January. 
 
The subscription rate for PBS Living is $2.99 per month with an Amazon Prime or Prime Video subscription. PBS Living is also available on Apple TV Channels in the Apple TV app at a subscription rate of $2.99 per month with no additional annual fees. 

Streaming starting Jan. 4 is season 26 of “Antiques Roadshow.” The show reveals more secrets behind family heirlooms and flea market finds, including a spectacular appraisal that marks a series first and a never-before-seen treasure that even wowed their experts. Among the many discoveries this season, fans will see a classic car appraised for the first time ever — due to its Paul Newman-signed dashboard. An unsigned light fixture, rescued after years being stored in a chicken coop, is identified as a custom-made Louis Comfort Tiffany treasure. A 1926 illustration once featured on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post is revealed to be the highest-valued find of the season.

Subscribers can go for jaunts around the countryside of Great Britain in classic cars as antiques experts compete to uncover the most unique finds in four newly released seasons of “Antiques Road Trip,” streaming beginning Jan. 4. Their adventures take them off the beaten path and allow them to indulge their passion for the past, learning about the little-known stories behind some of the greatest events in British history. Intriguing finds in these seasons include a filthy kilim rug, ancient Roman nails, a French sunburst clock, caryatid carvings and more.

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In the “Poetry in America” series, guests read and discuss unforgettable American poems with host Elisa New. The poems in season three take viewers from tight-knit Cuban neighborhoods in Miami to Robert Frost’s green Vermont, from the antebellum South to the cold interstellar bodies of the cosmos. Special guests range from poets to pop stars, ambassadors to young students. The season starts streaming Jan. 22.

Season Eight of ‘Finding Your Roots’ Streaming on PBS Documentaries Prime Video Channel Jan. 5

Season eight of “Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates, Jr.” will start streaming on the PBS Documentaries Prime Video Channel Jan. 5.

The subscription rate for the PBS Documentaries Prime Video Channel is $3.99 per month with an Amazon Prime or Prime Video subscription. During a limited-time promotion Dec. 23 to Jan. 3, the PBS Documentaries Prime Video Channel will be available to new subscribers for 99 cents per month for two months. 

Exploring the mysteries and surprising revelations hidden within the family trees of popular figures, season eight includes 10 episodes of examinations and ancestral discussions with 21 subjects, including Terry Crews, Tony Danza, Kathryn Hahn, Nathan Lane, John Leguizamo, Leslie Odom Jr., Pamela Adlon, Regina King, André Leon Talley, Erin Burnett, Mario Lopez and Anita Hill, among many others. 
 
In the episode “Activist Roots,” Henry Louis Gates explores the family trees of Brittany Packnett Cunningham and Anita Hill, introducing two women who’ve made profound sacrifices for social justice to the ancestors who made sacrifices for them. 
 
Then, in “Children of Exile,” Henry Louis Gates explores the poignant roots of chef David Chang and actor Raúl Esparza — two men whose families fled their homelands to live in exile, never to return. From war-torn cities in North Korea to shark-infested waters off the shores of Cuba, Gates sets off to recover the stories of individuals who came to America against all odds and built a better life for themselves. 

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Spanning the globe, season eight maps family trees and uncovers lost ancestors from the United States and Africa; Latin America and the Caribbean; as well as Poland, Ireland, Russia and Korea.

Amazon Expects to Become Largest Delivery Service by 2022

Amazon says it expects to become the largest delivery service in the United States by 2022 — surpassing longtime leading couriers FedEx and UPS.

At the end of 2019, UPS was the largest package courier in the U.S., with $84.6 billion in 2020 revenue.

Speaking Nov. 29 on CNBC, Dave Clark, CEO of worldwide consumer at Amazon, said the e-commerce behemoth continues to gradually deliver its own orders rather than rely on third-party services. The company now owns its own fleet of cargo trucks, vans and airplanes.

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Analysts at Bank of America say Amazon was delivering 66% of its own orders to consumers last August, up from 58% at the end of 2019.

“We expect we will be one of the largest carriers in the world by the end of the year,” Clark told “Squawk Box.” “I think we’ll probably be the largest package delivery carrier in the U.S. by early 2022.”

Amazon in 2019 quietly became Mercedes’ largest customer for Sprinter vans — a fleet the company now uses to deliver orders the last mile to consumers.

“These things don’t happen overnight,” Clark said. “We’ve been building the logistics infrastructure, the technology platform that drives it, for two decades now, so we walked into the pandemic in a really good place.”

PBS Bows Discount Deal on PBS Kids, PBS Documentaries and PBS Masterpiece Prime Video Channels

PBS Distribution has announced an early Black Friday through Cyber Monday deal for the PBS Masterpiece, PBS Documentaries, and PBS Kids Prime Video Channels. Each channel will be available to new subscribers at a subscription rate of 99 cents per month for two months beginning Nov. 23 and running through Nov. 29.

The standard subscription rate for the PBS Masterpiece Prime Video Channel is $5.99 per month with an Amazon Prime membership. The standard subscription rate for the PBS Documentaries Prime Video Channel is $3.99 per month with an Amazon Prime membership. The standard subscription rate for the PBS Kids Prime Video Channel is $4.99 per month with an Amazon Prime membership.

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The PBS Masterpiece Prime Video Channel offers British and international dramas such as “Masterpiece: All Creatures Great and Small” and “Masterpiece: Sanditon,” mystery-thriller series such as “Professor T,” and “Masterpiece: Miss Scarlet and The Duke,” as well as award-winning series from around the globe through “Walter Presents.” On the PBS Documentaries Prime Video Channel, viewers can stream the entire library of Ken Burns programs, including the new “Muhammad Ali” docuseries. Also available, Frontline’s “A Thousand Cuts” featuring Nobel Peace Prize-winning journalist Maria Ressa as well as films from “American Masters,” “Independent Lens,” “Nature” and “Nova.” On the PBS Kids Prime Video Channel, viewers can explore more than 1,400 hours of learning adventures for kids and watch PBS Kids series such as the newly launched series from Sesame Street’s Sonia Manzano, “Alma’s Way.” Other series include “Donkey Hodie,” “Wild Kratts,” “Arthur,” “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood,” “Odd Squad,” “Hero Elementary,” “Elinor Wonders Why,” and the Peabody award winning series “Molly of Denali,” among others.

Bing Crosby Bio, ‘The First Silent Night’ Among Titles Streaming on PBS Living Channel in November

Bing Crosby: Rediscovered from “American Masters,” and The First Silent Night, a documentary on the Christmas carol, are coming to the PBS Living streaming channel in November.

The subscription rate for PBS Living is $2.99 per month with an Amazon Prime or Prime Video subscription. The channel is also available on Apple TV Channels in the Apple TV app at $2.99 per month with no additional fees.

American Masters — Bing Crosby: Rediscovered, which starts streaming Nov. 26, explores one of the most popular and influential multi-media stars of the first half of the 2oth century. For over three decades, through radio, film, television and records he reigned supreme. A brilliant entrepreneur, Crosby played an important role in the development of the postwar recording industry. Crosby recorded nearly 400 hit singles, an achievement only Sinatra, Elvis or the Beatles have matched. Almost 40 years after his death, he remains the most recorded performer in history. Narrated by Stanley Tucci and directed by Robert Trachtenberg, the film explores the life and legend of the iconic performer, revealing a personality far more complex than the image the public had known.

Actor Simon Callow discovers the hidden meaning of one of the most popular Christmas carols in The First Silent Night, which begins streaming Nov. 30. Callow journeys to the Austrian village of Oberndorf as well as the city of Salzburg, where the story of the world’s favorite carol originated. The First Silent Night introduces us to two impoverished children — Joseph Mohr and Franz Gruber — who grew up in Austria’s cobbled streets and wooded villages. The hard years that shaped them also destined them to meet one day in a poor country church, where they united Gruber’s music and Mohr’s text into this classic carol about the birth of a third poor boy on a quiet night in ancient Palestine.

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Also coming to the channel Nov. 30 is Ken Burns: Seeing, Searching, Being, which explores the life William Segal, the great philosopher, publisher, writer and painter. Segal searched relentlessly and compassionately for meaning in the 2oth century. He helped bring Eastern and Western spiritual traditions together, always stressing what connected humanity rather than what differentiated it. In the last decade of his life, Segal befriended the documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, and the two collaborated on this film, which focuses on Segal as he paints and discusses the creative process and the intimate personal and spiritual relationship between the artist and the work of art. This documentary also visits the painter in his studio and in a gallery as he prepares an exhibition of his lithographs. In his on-camera interviews, Segal talks about his life and the practices he uses to live in the moment, embracing all that is around him.

Also coming to the PBS Living channel in November are The Oratorio: A Documentary With Martin Scorsese, Da Ponte’s Oratorio: A Concert for New York, Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing America, Independent Lens: Storm Lake and Road Food.

Amazon Prime Video to Stream Fourth ‘Hotel Transylvania’ Film

Amazon Prime Video has licensed worldwide streaming rights (excluding China) to Hotel Transylvania: Transformania from Sony Pictures Animation. The fourth installment of the family film franchise will premiere worldwide in more than 240 countries and territories on Prime Video on Jan. 14, 2022.

In the film, Drac (Brian Hull) and his monster pals are all transformed into humans, and Johnny (Andy Samberg) becomes a monster. In their new mismatched bodies, Drac, stripped of his powers, and an exuberant Johnny, loving life as a monster, must team up and race across the globe to find a cure. With help from Mavis (Selena Gomez) and the now human Drac Pack, the heat is on to find a way to switch themselves back before their transformations become permanent. The film also features the voices of Kathryn Hahn (Ericka), Steve Buscemi (Wayne), Molly Shannon (Wanda), David Spade (Griffin the Invisible Man), Keegan-Michael Key (Murray), Fran Drescher (Eunice), Brad Abrell (Frank) and Asher Blinkoff (Wesley the Wolf Pup).

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“The success of the ‘Hotel Transylvania’ franchise over the years speaks for itself,” Jennifer Salke, head of Amazon Studios, said in a statement. “Audiences around the world have fallen in love with the films created by the brilliant Genndy Tartakovsky, and the latest installment is the perfect ending to an incredible journey. We could not be more excited to work with Sony, Genndy, Jennifer Kluska, Derek Drymon, Selena Gomez and the talented producing team to bring this funny, heartwarming film to our customers early next year.”

“The ‘Hotel Transylvania’ franchise has been exceptional for Sony Pictures Animation, spanning nearly a decade and introducing the world to Genndy Tartakovsky’s singular vision, and we’re so proud of what our extraordinary directors Jennifer Kluska and Derek Drymon have brought to this special property,” Kristine Belson, president of Sony Pictures Animation, said in a statement. “These films have thrilled audiences and paved the way for so many artists working in CG animation, and now the family saga of Dracula and his daughter Mavis, son-in-law Johnny, and monster BFFs is coming to a close. We are thrilled to work with Amazon to bring this film to families everywhere.”

For the final chapter of the “Hotel Transylvania” film series, franchise creator Genndy Tartakovsky returns as one of the screenwriters and executive producers. Gomez will also serve as an executive producer. Directed by Derek Drymon and Jennifer Kluska, the film is produced by Alice Dewey Goldstone and executive produced by Tartakovsky, Michelle Murdocca, and Gomez. The story is by Genndy Tartakovsky with a screenplay by Amos Vernon, Nunzio Randazzo and Genndy Tartakovsky.