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Saturday, April 19, 2014

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Analysis for 'Amazon'

  • VideoNuze Podcast #221 - Pros and Cons of Amazon's New Fire TV

    I'm pleased to present the 221st edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia. This week we assess Amazon's new Fire TV connected device. As I wrote earlier this week, I see it as a double, but not a home run, and I further explain some of my main points.

    Colin believes Amazon also over-stated the problems with existing connected TV devices in its effort to differentiate the Fire TV. Those 3 differentiators were Fire TV's openness, improved search and better performance. Colin only sees the performance as meaningful, with Fire TV's new "ASAP" content pre-loading feature - but with the caveat that it has to actually work (and not just for Amazon's own video).

    We also discuss Fire TV's gaming features, which Amazon is clearly betting on, though we're not quite certain exactly where they'll fit in the market. On the positive side, Colin likes how Fire TV will prioritize searched-for content by price and availability.  

    Click here to listen to the podcast (19 minutes, 9 seconds)



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  • ACC Digital Network App Gets Quick Launch on Fire TV Using 1 Mainstream Platform

    Among the apps launched this week on Amazon's new Fire TV was the ACC Digital Network, a joint venture between Silver Chalice and Raycom Sports. ACC Digital Network is the Atlantic Coast Conference's multimedia destination featuring live streaming and other original programming. In addition to being online, it also recently launched on Apple TV.

    To get up and running quickly on Fire TV, SportsLabs, a division of Silver Chalice, turned to 1 Mainstream, a platform for deploying HD video services on a variety of connected TV and mobile devices that launched last December. I caught up with Rajeev Raman, 1 Mainstream's CEO (and previously head of product at Roku), to learn more about how the company is helping content providers quickly build and deploy apps.

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  • Amazon's Fire TV Looks Like a Double, Not a Home Run

    In baseball terms, Amazon's new Fire TV connected device will be neither a home run nor a strikeout; more likely it looks like it will be a solid double. Amazon deserves credit for some clever new features that will distinguish the Fire TV in an increasingly crowded connected TV landscape. But, by beefing up its specs - and therefore its own costs - Amazon has priced the device relatively high at $99. That in turn will likely limit its appeal mainly to certain segments of the market: families with younger kids and/or casual gamers.

    Of course a connected TV device from Amazon has been long-rumored and highly expected since it complements so well numerous other initiatives such as Prime, Kindle, Prime Instant Video, Amazon Studios, etc. How exactly Amazon would execute on the opportunity was debated. Would it roll out an inexpensive stick or more polished box (or both)? Which devices would it compete directly with? What content strategy would it use (free! pay-TV!)? And what features would differentiate it?

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  • Global TV Shipments Down 6% in 2013 As Streaming Sticks Raise New Challenges

    These are highly uncertain times for global TV manufacturers. As IHS reported last week, sales of TVs declined by 6% in 2013 to 225.1 million units, following a 7% contraction in 2012, creating first ever back-to-back down years for the global TV industry. IHS pinned the blame for the declines mainly on market saturation and difficult economic times.



    To rebound from the doldrums, TV manufacturers are betting heavily on consumers upgrading to 4K TV and Smart TVs. 4K, or Ultra-High Definition TV, has significant challenges with content availability, price and picture quality differentiation it must overcome to go mainstream. Meanwhile, although the price premium for Smart TVs has shrunk, bringing them closer to conventional HDTVs, their value proposition is still not widely understood by consumers and access to online content is still very limited.

    In this already difficult climate, another challenge for TV manufacturers is now taking shape from a whole new category of devices: low cost streaming sticks.

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  • BrightRoll is Using Amazon Web Services to Process 30 Billion Ad-Related Data Points Per Day

    For a glimpse into cloud computing's significant contribution to the successful scaling of online video advertising, yesterday BrightRoll shared some details of its relationship with Amazon Web Services (AWS) which it has been working with since 2008. According to BrightRoll, AWS now processes 30 billion data points per day in order to deliver 3 billion video ads per month. BrightRoll said in 2013 it delivered over 23 petabytes of content, which will double in 2014. In a related case study, Kenneth Cheung, BrightRoll's senior director of engineering said that "If AWS didn't exist, BrightRoll would be a different company."

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  • VideoNuze Podcast #213 - The All-Amazon Edition

    I'm pleased to present the 213th edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia. Today we focus on Amazon, which is already an important player in video, and is poised to become more so. Among the topics we discuss:

    - plans to increase the price of its Prime service (and the role of expensive video licensing in driving this)

    - the possibility video could be split off from Prime and become a more pure competitor to Netflix and others

    - the many roles that video advertising could play as part of a new deal with FreeWheel

    - why an Amazon connected TV device (widely rumored) would be highly strategic

    - whether Amazon will enter the pay-TV business (as has also been widely rumored)

    - the role of Amazon's original online productions

    All in all, Amazon is circling the video space in many different ways, with potential to be quite disruptive. It's still very early in the game for Amazon and 2014 could be a big year. We'll see how it plays out.

    Listen in to learn more!

    Click here to listen to the podcast (22 minutes, 32 seconds)



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  • Amazon's Deal With FreeWheel Opens Many Video Advertising Options

    Yesterday, FreeWheel quietly announced that it's powering video ads for Amazon. Though the announcement was light on details, anytime Amazon moves into a new space, as it's doing with video ads, it's noteworthy. I spoke to Doug Knopper, co-CEO of FreeWheel, who noted this is the company's first customer that isn't a pure media company, underscoring for him how  ubiquitous video and video advertising are becoming.

    Though under tight constraints from Amazon about what he could say, Doug emphasized that, as with all Amazon initiatives, the focus is on creating a better customer experience. In FreeWheel's release, Lisa Utzschneider, Amazon's VP of Global Ad Sales positioned video ads as a discovery vehicle, helping customers learn about related products.

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  • VideoNuze Podcast #210 - Top 2014 Video Trends to Watch

    I'm pleased to present the 210th edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.

    2014 is shaping up to be another very busy year for all things video. In this week's podcast, Colin and I share our top trends to look for in 2014 and why. And in the spirit of accountability, we also review our 2013 predictions from a year ago - what we got right and what we got wrong.

    Listen in to learn more!

    Click here to listen to the podcast (23 minutes, 26 seconds - sorry, for running long, lots of content this week.)



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  • Once Again, the Main Focus at CES Will Be On Ultra High-Def TVs, But Will the Results Be Any Different?

    Judging by the pre-show buzz, the main focus at this year's CES (which kicks off next Tuesday) will be on Ultra High-Definition TV, or "4K" TV. If this seems familiar, it's because UHDTVs were the main focus of last year's CES as well. Clearly TV manufacturers have settled on UHDTV as the next "big thing" to motivate consumers to upgrade. However, in 2013, UHDTV's high prices, impractically large screen sizes and lack of 4K content led to extremely limited adoption in the U.S. So the question is: will UHDTVs find better success in the U.S. in 2014?

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  • VideoNuze Podcast #204 - Hulu Plus in the Pay-TV Bundle Sounds Smart; Amazon Originals Launch

    I'm pleased to present the 204th edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.

    We start off this week discussing the latest Hulu rumor, that it is seeking a closer alignment with pay-TV operators for Hulu Plus. Colin and I both like the possibilities here, though we recognize numerous obstacles. From a user experience standpoint, the idea of finding all of a TV show's episodes in one place - from pilot to last night's -resonates with me and would be a huge step forward from today's silo'd worlds of SVOD/OTT and VOD/TV Everywhere.

    Colin points out too that Hulu's owners are already key programming suppliers to pay-TV operators, giving Hulu a better shot at partnering than, say Netflix, has. Last but hardly least, Hulu's new CEO Mike Hopkins most recently ran distribution for Fox Networks, so his expertise is perfect for figuring out how to get Hulu Plus carriage with pay-TV operators.

    We then shift to discussing the launch today, of Amazon Studios' first original, "Alpha House" starring John Goodman. While we're uncertain about its critical reception, we do believe that, given originals' strategic role supporting Prime, it's the first step of an aggressive agenda. Amazon is cleverly combining data, wisdom of the crowds and traditional TV skills to select which originals to pursue.

    Listen in the learn more!

    Click here to listen to the podcast (18 minutes, 42 seconds)




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  • Amazon's PR Machine Gears Up to Support Originals Push

    Amazon's PR machine is gearing up to support the company's imminent push into original programming, with a high-profile piece on Saturday in the Wall Street Journal and today in the NY Times. In both, Amazon video executives are quoted explaining the process by which Amazon selected its first crop of originals, with a particular focus on Garry Trudeau's "Alpha House," the first series that will launch on November 15. No doubt we'll see lots more PR around Amazon's subsequent originals' release.

    The PR emphasis is a departure for famously reticent Amazon, but its presence is a sign of how strategic original video has become for the company, and how high the stakes are for it to succeed. Over the past 2 years Amazon has become much more competitive with Netflix in licensing hit TV programs from networks and studios to be included for its Prime members. Now the battleground is shifting to originals.

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  • No Surprise, Intel Media is Struggling to Launch Its OTT Pay-TV Service

    Reports surfaced last week that Intel Media's planned OTT pay-TV service "OnCue" has hit a major speed bump, and the company is now looking for potential partners such as Samsung or Amazon to help get the service launched.

    I for one was not surprised by the news, as I've regarded Intel Media's pay-TV venture as facing extremely long odds. As well, I view the likelihood of Samsung, Amazon, or anyone else riding to Intel's rescue as being similarly improbable. Since Intel Media reportedly has had a 300-person team working on OnCue for almost 2 years, its potential demise would be an expensive lesson for the company in how hard it is to break into the pay-TV industry.

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  • Amazon Differentiates Kindle HDX With Video Downloads

    Amazon has announced its new Kindle Fire HDX tablet which includes many new features, but from a video perspective the one that stands out as a key differentiator is the ability to download Prime Instant Videos and watch them while not connected to the Internet. The downloading feature will be available to Prime members at no extra charge.

    The new downloading feature opens up great new use cases (on a plane, at a beach, no WiFi, etc.) that add meaningful value to Prime membership and help to differentiate Prime from Netflix and the HDX from the category-leading iPad.

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  • VideoNuze Podcast #196 - 3 Key Themes from IBC

    I'm pleased to present the 196th edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia. Colin was at the big IBC event in Amsterdam last week and today we discuss 3 of his key themes: how Amazon Web Services (AWS) has become deeply immersed in the online video industry, the rollout of HEVC (high efficiency video coding) plus 4K TV, and the prevalence of multi-screen video solutions.  

    Colin explains how AWS has succeeded in online video, particularly with cloud-based transcoding that leverage its elastic computing resources. This is a theme I hear repeatedly as well and wrote about recently with T3Media's integration with AWS.

    Colin then discusses how HEVC is rolling out, but notes continued industry reservations about 4K TV. Last, Colin observes that multi-screen video solutions were on display everywhere at IBC. With the rise of mobile phones, tablets and connected TV devices, multi-screen has become mainstream. One thing Colin notes was nowhere to be found at IBC was 3D, which he views as now dead on arrival.

    Click here to listen to the podcast (20 minutes, 2 seconds)


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  • T3Media Integrates With Amazon Web Services to Enhance Client Workflows

    T3Media has integrated its cloud-based T3 Library Manager content management solution with Amazon Web Services (AWS), so that common clients can seamlessly connect to their Amazon S3 and Amazon Glacier accounts. Mark Lemmons, T3Media's CTO, explained to me that the company's content provider clients gain a new level of scale and control over their storage and compute resources with the Amazon integration.

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  • VideoNuze Podcast #194 - OTT's Role in CBS/TWC; Why Linear on Connected TVs; ESPN in College Football

    I'm pleased to present the 194th edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia. First up this week we discuss CBS CEO Leslie Moonves' remarks on CNBC essentially declaring victory in the company's retrans dispute with Time Warner Cable because it had preserved its ability to license its programs to Netflix and Amazon. Listeners will recall that 3 weeks ago on the podcast we talked about how OTT licensing was at the heart of the dispute and the consequences for TV Everywhere.

    Next we transition to questioning whether there's any real benefit for TV networks and pay-TV operators to stream linear channels to connected TVs. Colin observes that recent data from the BBC indicating very low levels of linear streaming on connected TVs appears to question the value of the Disney-Apple TV and Time Warner Cable-Xbox 360 deals. We speculate that these are mainly meant for 2nd or 3rd TVs that don't have pay-TV set-top boxes.

    Last, we chat briefly about the massive 3-part series that the NY Times ran just before Labor Day on ESPN's dominant role in college football - a long, but fascinating read. As I wrote, it's well worth the time for anyone interested in the influence of big time TV money not only on college sports but also on the broader American higher education system.

    Click here to listen to the podcast (17 minutes, 41 seconds)

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  • VideoNuze Podcast #192 - More on Netflix's and Amazon's Role in the CBS-TWC Retrans Dispute

    I'm pleased to present the 192nd edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.

    In this week's discussion, we talk more about the unexpected role that Netflix and Amazon are playing in the CBS-Time Warner Cable retransmission consent dispute, which has knocked CBS off the air in major markets like NYC, LA, Dallas and elsewhere. As I wrote earlier this week, though "retrans" disputes have become commonplace, a new wrinkle in this particular one is that digital distribution rights are actually the main sticking point.

    Having made lucrative digital deals with both Netflix and Amazon, CBS is justifiably reluctant to simply throw digital access to its programs into a deal with TWC, as it has in the past. The standoff highlights the uphill battle that pay-TV operators are having gaining content rights for their TV Everywhere services, which remain like Swiss cheese, with major holes in program availability. It also underscores the transformational role OTT powerhouses like Netflix and Amazon are having on the broader TV industry.

    Further, Colin believes there's an opportunity for new market entrants (e.g. Intel Media, Sony, Apple, Google, etc.) to bid for both digital and linear rights, and then package access for consumers in inventive new ways. Colin sees broadband's lower cost of delivery creating a big advantage for these new players. I'm skeptical however, noting that the huge expense involved in licensing content and promoting a service from scratch would more than outweigh delivery savings. But, with so much change happening in the market these days, nothing can be counted out.

    Click here to listen to the podcast (19 minutes, 25 seconds)




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  • Who'd Have Thunk It? Netflix and Amazon Are Playing a Central Role in CBS-TWC Retrans Dispute

    Disputes between broadcasters and pay-TV operators over so-called "retransmission consent" fee payments are a dime a dozen. Broadcasters, seeking their slice of the monthly fees pay-TV operators pay cable TV networks, have bargained hard for this new revenue stream. In this sense, the current CBS-Time Warner Cable retrans standoff is business as usual. What is new, however, is that digital rights - and more specifically the huge licensing fees that OTT's richest players, Netflix and Amazon, are now paying - have taken a central role in this particular drama.

    As the WSJ reported last Friday, the real obstacle between CBS and TWC isn't what TWC will pay to retransmit the CBS signal, but rather what digital rights will be included, and at what incremental cost. Five years ago, these rights were a virtual throwaway, but now it's a totally different situation. Here's what changed:

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  • VideoNuze Podcast #190 - TiVo-Netflix Research; Amazon Ups the Ante for Video Rights

    I'm pleased to present the 190th edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.

    We start our discussion with data that TiVo Research and Analytics (TRA) released this past Monday, which concluded, among other things, that Netflix does not cannibalize traditional TV viewing. TRA also identified the percentage of respondents who subscribe to Netflix (and other services) who watched "House of Cards." Using these numbers, Colin calculates that about 10 million people watched the program, a healthy amount by any standard (Netflix hasn't publicly released HoC's audience). Colin sees a class of "super-viewers" whose traditional TV consumption is augmented by, not substituted with, Netflix.

    One thing that caught my attention in the TRA data was that while Netflix had a 57% adoption rate among respondents, Amazon Prime was right behind it, at 50% (Hulu Plus was further back at 18%). To be fair, it's not clear whether these Prime members are actually watching video included in Prime, or are mainly focused on the unlimited shipping benefit. But, assuming that many DO watch video, it's an impressive number for Amazon, and underscores how far Prime has come in the 2 1/2 years since Instant Videos were launched.

    Colin and I discuss Amazon's broader agenda and how its aggressive pursuit of video is strategic in supporting both Prime and the Kindle ecosystem (all of which I described in my post this past Monday). Given Amazon's willingness to operate on razor-thin margins, I foresee the price for licensing high-quality content continuing to rise, which will in turn pinch profitability (and subscriber growth) at pure play OTT providers like Netflix.

    Click here to listen to the podcast (16 minutes, 48 seconds)




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  • Video is Now the Top Driver of New Members for Amazon Prime, as Licensing and Originals Soar

    Google's new Chromecast device dominated the video landscape last week, making it easy to miss a highly noteworthy news nugget from Amazon: on its Q2 '13 earnings call last Thursday, Thomas Szkutak, the company's SVP/CFO said, "We're having new Prime members come to Amazon largely because of video." Szkutak's comment was a stark reminder of how far video has come for Amazon in the 2 1/2 years since it was first included in the $79/year Prime service.

    Video - and other content/apps - are critical to Amazon because they all support two of the company's most important consumer-facing priorities: growing its highly profitable and sticky Prime service and supporting its line of Kindle devices in the fiercely competitive tablet market. Amazon's ability to successfully use video in service to these other businesses no doubt helps drive its willingness to spend heavily on content licensing and also to invest in its own original productions.

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