• Across Devices and Content, Amazon Keeps Upping the Video Ante

    HBO thoroughly dominated at the Emmys last night, riding the big success of “Game of Thrones.” However, Amazon took home 5 Emmys (all for “Transparent”), just behind ABC (6), but ahead of CBS (4) and Netflix (4). The Emmys are a high-profile gauge of Amazon’s early success in video, but to get a fuller picture of the force that the company is poised to become, it’s important to look at the range of video initiatives Amazon is pursuing.

    The past month has been a whirlwind of news in video devices, content and how Amazon is differentiating through their integration. Last Thursday brought a flurry of announcements related to Amazon’s Fire tablets and Fire TV connected TV devices. The new Fire HD tablet was “designed from the ground up for entertainment,” with an 8” or 10.1” high-resolution display. Among the innovations Amazon touted was a brand new feature called “On Deck,” which will auto-download popular content from Prime Instant Videos to the Fire HD in a “shadow mode.”

    I’ve been a big proponent of downloading for a while, as a solution for poor or non-existent WiFi when out-of-home, and On Deck builds on Amazon’s recent move to allow downloading to both iOS and Android devices. Despite Netflix’s illogical dismissal of downloading’s value, it is something many streaming video viewers will get huge utility from and be a solid differentiator for Amazon vs. other SVOD services. An elegant integration with Fire HD would also provide the device a competitive lever vs. iPad and Android tablets.

    (It’s also worth noting that Amazon Web Services acquired Elemental in September, which will make it a bigger player in powering third-party multi-screen video services.)  

    Meanwhile, the new Fire TV leapfrogged the new Apple TV by including 4K support, a first for connected TV devices. According to IHS, 4K TVs accounted for 14% of all TVs shipped in June 2015, and are forecast to rise to 20% in 2016. While it’s still early days for 4K, there are many popular shows and movies already available in 4K such as “Transparent,” “Better Call Saul,” “Narcos,” and “Marvel’s Daredevil.” No doubt lots more content will be available in 4K in 2016, and Fire TV (at $100) is affordable and well-positioned to gain share as this happens.

    Amazon also said last week that content available on Fire TV has grown 17x from the device’s launch in April 2014, reflecting Amazon’s eagerness to integrate third-party content into Fire TV.  Amazon highlighted providers such as Sling TV, Pluto TV, HBO Now, Tastemade and Tennis Channel Everywhere and forthcoming ones FOX Now, FX Now and Turner Classic Movies. Universal search across these apps has been a key Fire TV feature since launch, something that was only just announced for the new Apple TV.

    While all of these moves are impressive, it’s Amazon’s ongoing investments in both licensed and original content for Prime Instant Video that most clearly underscore the company’s commitment to video. When it was launched 3 1/2 years ago, I called Prime Instant Video a “paper tiger,” due to its lack of premium content and branding clarity. A lot has changed since then, with Amazon’s May 2014 deal to stream many of HBO’s most popular series (updated last week to include “Sex and the City”) the most significant. Among other licensed content, Amazon also poached “Downton Abbey” from Netflix.

    Beyond licensing, Amazon has significantly scaled its original content initiatives. “Transparent” has become its most visible success so far, but new shows like “Hand of God” and “The Man in the High Castle,” among others, are also looking promising (especially noteworthy will be what comes from the Woody Allen deal announced earlier this year). Not to be forgotten are Amazon’s range of new kids shows, which, along with Netflix’s and Hulu’s, are contributing to ad-supported kids’ TV networks’ demise. Last but not least is Amazon’s move into movies, with the first, “Chi-Raq” co-written by Spike Lee.

    Add it all up and it’s clear that video has become a top priority for Amazon. The company is investing across devices, licensed and original content. It’s finding ways to innovate the user experience and differentiate from competitors. Most important, Amazon is using its vast resources to aggressively pursue video. Having a well-funded, integrated competitor like Amazon should have everyone in the ecosystem’s attention because the company is clearly only in the early stages of its grand plan to play a far more significant role in video.