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Amazon seeks UK pay-TV deals as it gears up for Clarkson

Amazon is in talks with British broadcasters to add their channel brands and programmes to its streaming service, as it gears up to use Jeremy Clarkson as the spearhead of an attack on the pay-TV market.

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The giant is attempting to adapt its American Streaming Partners Programme to the UK media market and make its Prime Instant Video service and Fire TV set-top box hardware into a more credible alternative to Sky and Virgin Media, and give it an edge over Netflix.

The discussions are understood to be in their early stages, but it is envisaged that the owners of UK pay-TV channels such as Viacom, UKTV, Disney and Discovery would offer them on demand via Prime Instant Video as an optional extra for subscribers. It has also held preliminary discussions with BT, raising the possibility that live sport could be made available via Prime Instant Video.

In the United States channels such as Showtime, the maker of Sky Atlantic’s imported drama The Affair, are offered on an individual basis to allow Amazon customers to pick and mix their entertainment.

According to two industry sources, however, UK pay-TV channels have pushed Amazon to change its approach and bundle channels together in a more traditional subscription add-on package.

Proponents argue that no UK pay-TV channels have enough pull on their own to draw in consumers, as Sky typically buys up the biggest imports for its flagship drama channel Sky Atlantic. A broader package of channels could prove attractive to streaming audiences, they argue. The debate is believed to be ongoing, with Amazon said to be keen to stick to its customer choice mantra.

But the Seattle-based company is also racing to improve its offer to viewers before it unveils the first series of the new programme from the former Top Gear team. Following Mr Clarkson’s sacking by the BBC for punching a producer, Amazon backed him to front a new motoring programme that will be exclusive to Prime Instant Video, in hope of drawing new subscribers to streaming.

The as-yet-unnamed programme, which has a budget of £160m over three series, is currently in production and due for release later this year.

So far there is little sign of Amazon or Netflix loosening Sky and Virgin Media’s grip on pay-TV households in the UK. Most subscribers to the new services take them on top of their traditional pay-TV package, according to analysts. An expanded Prime Instant Video could pose a stronger challenge to Sky’s streaming service Now TV, however, and help it close the gap on Netflix.

Amazon declined to comment.