Amazon Prime Video’s NFL Deal Ends; League Coy on Successor

Amazon Prime Video has streamed NFL Thursday Night Football for the past two seasons. Whether that groundbreaking deal is renewed remains up in the air, according to media reports.

Prime Video, unlike Netflix or Hulu, has embraced live sports recently signing exclusive rights to English Premier League soccer. The New York Yankees reportedly are in discussions with Amazon to become the first MLB team to stream games directly to viewers who don’t have a pay-TV subscription.

The NFL is concerned whether Amazon can handle the capacity required to stream games to millions of viewers simultaneously. An interesting concerns considering ESPN’s challenges streaming the Clemson, LSU college football national championship game on Jan. 13.

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“What Amazon’s doing over the next few weeks in the U.K. with their Premier League package will be very interesting to watch,” Brian Rolapp, EVP, media with the NFL, told an confab last month, as reported by Sports Business Daily. “They’re getting some pretty high ‘concurrents’ there.”

Rolapp said the NFL doubted any streaming service had the capacity to handle 25 million people simultaneously streaming a single game, much less in high-definition.

“It’s not just technical capacity the league is looking for. Production and promotion are just as important, he said. “In order to hold an NFL package, you’re … going to have to be able to distribute it at a high level of quality — no fan is going to accept less than HD, high-res all the time. You’re going to have to sell it from an advertising standpoint and market it. So we need to see that from any partner, and be satisfied with that before we entrust any game package to them.”

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Regardless, it’s likely money will play as important consideration going forward. Both DAZN and YouTube TV have expressed interest in football, with the latter a sponsor and distributor of Major League Baseball post-season games and World Series.

DAZN, of course, inked an exclusive deal with Mexican fighter Canelo Alvarez worth a reported $365 million.

Rolapp told the confab the NFL remains primarily interested in reaching viewers and fans across multiple distribution channels.

“We will not sacrifice reach for something less valuable, including a higher rights fee,” he said. “We will maximize our reach. We think we can get both, but the reach is really important.”

Amazon Working With Cable Group to Incorporate Fire TV

Amazon announced it is working with the National Cable Television Cooperative (NCTC) to enable the trade group’s distribution members to deliver Fire TV streaming media players directly to their customers. Amazon claims Fire TV has surpassed more than 40 million active users.

As the cable industry continues to lose subscribers to alternative distgribution channels, including over-the-top video, it is working with OTT players such as Amazon to meld OTT technology with linear TV.

Fire TV, of course, enables users to access Amazon and third-party Internet-based apps through the television.

NCTC has over 750 members, including independent cable and telecommunication operators, delivering service to 16 million broadband and 8 million video customers in the aggregate.

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The cable agreement coincides with Amazon’s expansion of the Fire TV Edition program, designed to give more opportunities for developers, operators, device makers and manufacturers across multiple categories, including automotive, smart TVs, soundbars and streaming media players.

With this expanded Fire TV Edition, the e-commerce giant said it would be easier for device makers to integrate Fire TV into their products, with new tools and services for each category that will enable companies to bring tailored entertainment experiences and great content to their customers.

“At CES 2017, we announced the first Fire TV Edition smart TV,” Marc Whitten, VP of Amazon Fire TV, said in a statement. “Now, just three years later, Fire TV Edition has grown into a worldwide program, which will include more than 150 Fire TV Edition models across more than 10 countries by the end of the year.”

In 2018, Amazon and Best Buy announced an initiative to bring Fire TV Edition TVs to customers in the United States and Canada, and to date, they have sold millions of Insignia and Toshiba Fire TV Edition smart TVs.

“Over the past year, Best Buy has sold millions of Fire TV Edition smart TVs on BestBuy.com, in our stores and as a third-party seller on Amazon.com. We’ve enjoyed working with the Amazon team to bring these high-quality TVs and the incredible Fire TV experience to our customers,” said Luke Motschenbacher,VP of merchandising at Best Buy.

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Following the success of Fire TV Edition smart TVs with Best Buy, Amazon announced plans to expand internationally, bringing the next generation of Fire TV Edition devices to customers in the United Kingdom, Germany, Austria, Ireland and India.

In 2019, more than 50 Fire TV Edition smart TVs and soundbars have launched from global brands like Grundig, JVC, Onida and Anker and retailers like Best Buy, Currys PC World and Media Markt Saturn (coming 2020).

Amazon will continue its international expansion with more brands launching Fire TV Edition smart TVs in the United States, Canada, India, United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain and Mexico in the coming year.

Fire TV Edition for Soundbars

This past September, Amazon and Anker Innovations announced the Nebula Soundbar–Fire TV Edition, the first Fire TV Edition soundbar featuring an all-in-one home cinema experience with expansive video streaming and stunning sound.

The TCL Alto 8+ Soundbar–Fire TV Edition is now available on Amazon in the United States and Canada. Customers of amazon.co.uk, amazon.de, amazon.fr, amazon.it and amazon.es can sign up to be notified when the TCL TS8011 Soundbar–Fire TV Edition is available on Amazon.

Both soundbars are designed to support premium acoustic performance, with carefully tuned speaker drivers and support for Dolby Digital Plus producing clear, dynamic and immersive sound.

Amazon now works with a growing number of device manufacturers including Anker, Polk Audio and Tonly on soundbar solutions. Later this year, Fire TV Edition soundbars will offer new features, including Dolby Atmos support, compatible device control, HDMI switching and far-field voice control, along with partner customizations.

Fire TV Edition for Auto

Building on the success of Fire TV Edition smart TVs and soundbars, Amazon is expanding the program to automakers, partnering with BMW and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA).

With hands-free access to Alexa, touch screen interface and offline playback capabilities, parents and kids alike can enjoy the living room TV experience in the car and watch a wide variety of content and the latest shows from the most popular video services worldwide and shows recorded with Fire TV Recast or saved locally on-device.

Content can be streamed using a vehicle’s Wi-Fi or LTE connection, a mobile hotspot or any other WAN-enabled device.

“Adding Fire TV to future BMW vehicles represents a big step in bringing the best of streamed entertainment to our products. With Amazon’s approach, and with the help of Garmin, we are able to innovate and create a unique and special experience for BMW cars, providing the consistency of content and customer experience that Fire TV provides in the home. We look forward to working closely with Amazon to bring Fire TV to future vehicles,” said Fathi El-Dwaik, VP, User Interaction, Business Line My Car and Business Line My Life, BMW Group.

Fire TV Edition for Operators

Fire TV is also enabling television and telecommunication operators to quickly bring Fire TV Edition devices to their customers in a more customized and cost-effective way.

After successfully introducing Fire TV partnerships with Tata Sky in India and Verizon in the United States, Fire TV is now expanding the device offerings available to operators, allowing them to choose the best solution that fits their customer and business needs as well as providing merchandising opportunities in the Fire TV Edition customer experience.

The Fire TV Edition for Operators is available today in North America, Europe, India and Japan.

Fire TV Edition — Certified Solutions Providers

Fire TV is enabling partners across a variety of industries and categories to work with certified solutions providers to rapidly bring the latest Fire TV Edition devices to customers. Amazon currently works with a growing number of TV manufacturers who produce Fire TV Edition smart TVs. Vestel, Arcelik, Compal, TPV and others can now build Fire TV Edition smart TVs for their customers with manufacturing and assembly capabilities around the world.

Amazon announced that Skyworth is the latest global ODM with turnkey solutions for smart TVs. These turnkey solutions enable Skyworth and other ODMs to work with the world’s leading TV brands to bring high-quality, differentiated, cost-effective 4K and FHD smart TVs to customers.

Starting in India, brands can choose from a selection of manufacturers with various industrial design and price options to bring an entire lineup of smart TVs to customers.

The turnkey ODM solution offered in collaboration with Amazon includes out-of-the-box reference designs, schematics and boards designed with CVTE, a leading LCD TV mainboard provider for feature-rich 4K and FHD smart TVs; self-service tools and software customizations, such as settings SDK for custom picture and audio settings; and customized industrial design and hardware options.

“We are excited to build a scalable, worldwide smart TV program with Fire TV Edition,” said Tony Wang, CEO of Skyworth TV Business Division. “ODMs & OEMs can offer customers the choice of a top-rated smart TV software experience along with the speed, value and high-quality hardware that they always expect from Skyworth.”

Finally, for auto partners, Amazon is working with system integrators VOXX Automotive and Garmin to deliver solutions and services that can significantly accelerate the development cycle for automakers.

“By working with Amazon to enable Fire TV for in-vehicle entertainment, we have been able to create a reference implementation that automotive OEMs can build into their vehicle programs and bring all of the rich entertainment of Fire TV into automotive grade installations,” said Ed Mas, President, VOXX Automotive, a division of VOXX International Corp.

 

‘Super Saturday’ (Dec. 21) Sales Topped Black Friday

With the winter retail holidays a week shorter than last year, merchants have pulled out the stops attempting to get consumers into stores and online before Christmas.

New data from retail research firm Customer Growth Partners suggests marketing efforts coupled with last-minute shopping holiday shopping is paying off.

Consumers spent a record $34.4 billion, the biggest single day in U.S. retail history — topping perennial Black Friday retail juggernaut by 10% ($31.2 billion).

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Walmart, Costco and Target paced big box stores — while e-commerce (Amazon) has driven 58% of sales growth from the same day a year ago. Other big retail days this winter holiday season have been Dec. 14, with $28.1 billion, and Cyber Monday, with $19.1 billion.

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All four retailers account for a vast majority of packaged-media retail.

“Super Saturday was boosted by the best traffic our team has seen in years,” Craig Johnson, president Customer Growth Partners, said in a statement. “The question now is whether [the] momentum leads to sustained economic growth into 2020 and beyond.”

 

Amazon Eyeing Added Alexa Revenue Opportunities

For years now Amazon has been attempting to put voice-activated Alexa software in every home via its Fire TV streaming media players and Echo speakers and earbuds.

Now the e-commerce giant wants to increase monetization of original content distributed through Alexa.

Amazon reportedly commands 30% in revenue from every third-party device incorporating Alexa software. The company would like to increase so-called “skill revenue” from content delivered via Alexa that includes music, video, news and podcasts.

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The company has partnered with Spotify for music and is eyeing news and other informational-type content that would be sold through Alexa.

Amazon generated about $1.4 million in Alexa “skill” revenue in 2019 — about 25% of the forecasted $5.5 million, according to The Information, which cited sources familiar with the situation. “Skill” revenue refers to monies generated by add-on features applied to Alexa software from third parties.

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For example, Amazon just introduced its first celebrity voice, Samuel L. Jackson, where consumers — for 99 cents — can hear Jackson’s voice on select commands. Google Assistant offers actress Issa Rae and singer John Legend to their voice-activated Nest devices.

Black Friday Musings

I ventured out on Black Friday not so much in search of bargains (all right, maybe a new laptop at Best Buy) but to see if there were any significant differences at retail from prior years.

The biggest change, on the home entertainment front, is that the buying process has become a lot more complicated than simply squeezing in past other shoppers to snatch that prize TV, Blu-ray Disc or video game.

I went to Best Buy with my 21-year-old middle son to pick up some of the advertised video game specials as gifts for my youngest. By 3 p.m., the time we arrived, both of the games we were looking for had sold out.

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I turned my attention to the laptops — and when I finally rousted up a clerk, he told me yes, the item was in stock, and to wait right there until he could find it.

I waited 10 minutes, which to me is a lifetime, and then walked out. While walking, I found the exact same laptop, at the exact same price, on Amazon and clicked the “Buy Now” button.

Our next stop was Walmart — a place I avoid due to new security measures I consider intrusive. Let me explain: in the hopes of begin more environmentally sensitive, California no longer lets retailers bag items in free, single-use plastic bags. Instead, consumers have the option of buying much heavier plastic bags for a dime apiece (I know — I don’t see the logic here, either). As a result, some customers, me included, skip the bag and just hold our purchased items in our hands.

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At the same time, Walmart began introducing automated checkout stands, with the customer rather than a clerk scanning the items and processing payment.

That lethal combination prompted the retailer to install security personnel at exits to check receipts — which often results in a long line.

No thank you.

Anyway, back to Black Friday. The traditional DVD “dump bins” were as crowded as always, while the good stuff — new releases as well as video games — are now in locked glass cases. We found the video games we were looking for — but finding a clerk to unlock the case proved futile.

Again, Amazon to the rescue.

Once again, we walked out empty-handed.

Streaming Ideal for Miniseries

Some of the most compelling content I’ve seen this year has been in the miniseries category, mostly via streaming. In recent months, I’ve streamed HBO’s Chernobyl, Amazon’s Good Omens and Netflix’s When they See Us — all miniseries. I also watched the excellent Fosse/Verdon on FX — episode by episode, over time — but would gladly have binged it on a streaming service.

You see, I think miniseries are simply made for streaming. They seem to fit the distribution medium very well — not too long, not too short, perfect for binging.

Often, watching season after season of programming modeled on traditional TV via streaming is draining, especially since each new episode often automatically loads. It’s exhausting, like an entertainment marathon where I’d like a shortcut. These series waste time drawing out a plot that could so easily be encapsulated in a miniseries. I leave each season exhausted and yearning for an end.

That’s what miniseries provide — an end! They don’t have to add filler to draw out the season and tease another. They are like a long feature film, unconstrained by the roughly two-hour limit set because distributors thought viewers could only sit so long in a theater. Yet, they also break the bonds of the TV series, not constrained by the need to draw out the plot.

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In the revolution of streaming, one of the things I hope the industry reinvents is the length of content, which should expand and contract to meet the tastes of the viewer and the requirements of the story, not the constraints of the schedule.

Amazon Inks U.K. Streaming Deal With Lionsgate

Amazon has struck a new deal with Lionsgate to be the U.K.’s first-window streaming home to the studio’s recently released and upcoming theatrical feature films.

The multiyear deal, which begins Jan. 1, will enable Prime members in the United Kingdom, or those subscribing to the monthly standalone Prime Video service offer, to access such Lionsgate hits titles as Angel Has Fallen, Rambo: Last Blood and Lionsgate U.K.’s The Personal History of David Copperfield. The agreement also encompasses upcoming Lionsgate films such as the Knives Out, the action epic Midway and Bombshell.

“We’re excited to be bringing Lionsgate’s slate of compelling movies to Prime Video,” Martin Backlund, head of content U.K. for Prime Video, said in a statement. “Our customers will be delighted that Lionsgate’s Hollywood and British blockbuster movies are coming to Prime Video.”

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“We’re delighted to expand our longstanding relationship with Amazon to bring our films to their Prime Video service in the U.K.,” Lionsgate president of worldwide television and digital distribution Jim Packer said in a statement. “It is a great new collaboration with an important content partner in the worldwide arena, underscoring the breadth and depth of the Lionsgate slate.”

Report: Amazon to Overtake Walmart as Largest Domestic Retailer in 2022

Amazon is set to become the largest retailer in the United States by 2022, overtaking current leader Walmart, according to a report from market research firm Packaged Facts. The firm bases the forecast on the expectation that Amazon sales will continue to grow at a much faster rate.

The report, Amazon Strategies and the Amazon Shopper, 2nd Edition, analyzes the e-commerce giant’s activities in grocery, pet products and financial services.

“Amazon already has an enormous impact on e-commerce sales, benefitting from its creation of an endless online aisle with products at competitive prices,” David Sprinkle, research director for Packaged Facts, said in a statement. “Packaged Facts estimates that Amazon’s U.S. gross merchandise sales will comprise 43% of U.S. e-commerce sales in 2019, up from 28% in 2015. By 2022, we forecast that Amazon will contribute almost half of U.S. e-commerce sales.”

Despite Amazon’s continued growth, Walmart does have advantages Amazon presently cannot match, even when accounting for Amazon’s innovative incorporation of natural supermarket chain Whole Foods in 2017 or its partnership with department store retail chain Kohl’s, according to the firm. Most notably, Walmart’s in-store services strongly differentiate it from online competitors such as Amazon, which cannot provide such services, as well as from its brick-and-mortar competitors, many of which do not offer the same breadth of offerings or cannot match Walmart’s pricing. These services therefore not only produce revenue but also significantly drive traffic, which is even more vital at a time when brick-and-mortar retailers of all shapes and sizes seek to revitalize in-store traffic, according to the firm.

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Packaged Facts survey data found that more than 20% of Walmart purchasers use in-store services (including purchasing/using a range of financial services, on-site pharmacy, and optical and photo processing). In addition, Walmart is the click-and-collect king, according to the firm. Among survey respondent click-and-collectors, 43% identified Walmart as the pick-up location for their last click-and-collect order, three times the percentage of those who cited runner-up Target.

Amazon Upping Ad-Supported Video Options for Non-Prime Subscribers

Amazon Prime Video, along with Netflix and Hulu, remains among the top subscription-based video-on-demand streaming platforms in the United States and around the world.

But the e-commerce behemoth is quietly increasing efforts around its ad-supported VOD subsidiary, IMDb TV, and streaming media devices such as Fire TV.

In the third quarter, Amazon announced more than 20 new Fire TV products, including the first Fire TV Edition soundbar; the updated Fire TV Cube; the first OLED Fire TV Edition smart TV; and the first Fire TV Edition smart TV with far-field Alexa voice control.

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Amazon also expanded the lineup of content for Fire TV customers, including the recently announced YouTube TV app, Apple TV app, and the free News app. In Q3, Fire TV announced more than 37 million active users worldwide and continues to be the No. 1 selling family of streaming media players in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan and India, according to Amazon.

Speaking on the fiscal call, Dave Fildes, director of investor relations, said Amazon is slowly increasing ad-supported video access, including third-party brand access.

“It’s still early in this space, but we’ve done a few things with IMDb TV, live sports [‘NFL Thursday Night Football’], things like adding more inventory through Fire TV apps, adding more OTT video supply through Amazon Publisher Services or APS integrations and streamlining access for third party apps and really just making it easier for advertisers to manage their campaigns and provide better results,” Fildes said.

Amazon Ups Q3 Online Store Sales 21%

Amazon Oct. 24 announced third-quarter (ended Sept. 30) online store revenue of $35 billion, which was 21% higher than $29 billion in revenue in the previous-year period.

Online stores include product sales and digital media content available in both a physical (DVD and Blu-ray Disc) and digital format, such as books, music, videos, games and software sold on a transactional basis.

Subscription services revenue, which includes annual and monthly fees associated with Prime memberships, as well as audiobook, digital movies, e-book, digital music and other non-AWS subscription services, increased 34% to $4.95 billion compared to $3.69 billion last year.

Other Q3 highlights featured a new line up of Echo personal speakers; 20 new Fire TV products, including the first Fire TV Edition soundbar; the all-new Fire TV Cube, the fastest and most powerful Fire TV ever; the first OLED Fire TV Edition smart TV; and the first Fire TV Edition smart TV with far-field Alexa voice control.

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Fire TV announced more than 37 million active users worldwide and continues to be the No. 1 selling family of streaming media players in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan and India.

The e-commerce behemoth introduced the all-new eero mesh WiFi system, which offers simple, reliable WiFi for streaming, gaming, and working from home — all for $99. The mesh WiFi system replaces your existing router and extends WiFi coverage seamlessly throughout your home, according to Amazon. In addition, eero is expanding to Europe — customers in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom will be able to try the eero and eero Pro in early November.

Prime Video won 15 Emmy awards, with “Fleabag” receiving four, including Outstanding Comedy Series, as well as Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series and Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series for Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

Prime Video premiered four new Amazon Original series: “The Boys,” “Carnival Row,” “Undone” and “Modern Love.” In addition, Prime Video will see the return of “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan,” starring John Krasinski, on Nov. 1; “The Man in the High Castle,” from author Philip K. Dick, on Nov. 15; “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” recent winner of eight Emmy awards, on Dec. 6; and the relaunch of series “The Expanse,” with an all-new season four, on Dec. 13.

Prime Video launched its third season of “NFL Thursday Night Football” with new features, such as Next Gen Stats on X-Ray, which gives fans access to deeper analytics and allows football fans all over the globe to customize their Thursday Night Football streaming experience.

Prime Video continues to create local Original Series around the world, including “All or Nothing: Brazil National Football Team” and “Soltos em Floripa” in Brazil; “El Juego de las Llaves” and “Derbez Family Vacation” in Mexico; “LOL: Last One Laughing” in Australia; “Truth Seekers” in the United Kingdom; “Inside Borussia Dortmund” in Germany; “El Corazón de Sergio Ramos” in Spain; “The Family Man” in India; and season three of “The Bachelor” in Japan.