Amazon Announces Fire TV Recast DVR for Recording Over-the-Air TV

Amazon has announced Fire TV Recast, a DVR that lets consumers watch, record, and replay free over-the-air TV programming on Fire TV, Echo Show, and on compatible Fire tablet, iOS and Android devices.

Consumers can connect Fire TV Recast to a HDTV antenna (sold separately) for access to free over-the-air TV content, such as live shows, local news, and sports, and from channels such as ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, PBS, and The CW with no monthly fees.

“We are focused on making Fire TV an easy way to watch all the entertainment you love, whether it’s through streaming video services, cable and satellite providers, or even local broadcast stations,” said Marc Whitten, VP of Amazon Fire TV, in a statement. “Now with Fire TV Recast, we’ve made it simpler to find, watch, and record live over-the-air TV at home and on your mobile devices.”

Consumers can place Fire TV Recast and a HDTV antenna anywhere in their home, and all compatible devices will automatically connect, giving them access to local over-the-air TV programming, according to Amazon. Fire TV Recast allows consumers to record up to four shows at once, and stream to any two compatible devices at a time, according to the company.

“Advanced wireless technology automatically optimizes the use of bandwidth on your local network, delivering the best HD picture quality possible — even when streaming across multiple devices in a congested Wi-Fi environment,” according to Amazon.

Consumers can also take over-the-air shows on-the-go by using the Fire TV companion app for Fire TV Recast to watch live and recorded content over Wi-Fi or when connected to a cellular network. Mobile streaming for Fire TV Recast is available on all compatible mobile devices with no extra monthly charges or subscription fees.

Fire TV Recast is available for pre-order in the United States and will begin shipping Nov. 14. It is available in two models: a two–tuner model with 500GB of storage that allows consumers to record up to two shows at once and holds up to 75 hours of HD programming for $229.99, and a four–tuner model with 1TB of storage that allows consumers to record up to four shows at once and holds up to 150 hours of HD programming for $279.99. Consumers soon will be able to expand the built-in storage of their Fire TV Recast by connecting an external hard drive to the USB port on the back of the device, according to Amazon.

Amazon Looking to Dramatically Up Retail Presence

Amazon may have a legacy antithetical to brick-and-mortar business, but its recent strategies appear to be embracing old-school retail.

The e-commerce behemoth, which currently operates about 20 branded retail bookstores, last year acquired Whole Foods for $13.7 billion. It has reduced its list of cities for a second headquarter down to 20.

Earlier this month, it placed an order for 20,000 Sprinter vans manufactured by Mercedes Benz. The order overnight made Amazon the largest global Benz client for Sprinter vans.

Scuttlebutt suggests Amazon will use the vans to help deliver medium-to-small-size packages – in effect becoming one of the largest package delivery services rivaling UPS, Fed-Ex and the U.S. Postal Service.

The vans will be built in large part in a new $500 million manufacturing facility Benz just opened in South Carolina.

Then today (Sept. 19), citing sources familiar with the project, Bloombergreported Amazon is looking to open 3,000 cashier-less convenience stores across the country by 2021 – becoming in the process one of the nation’s largest retailers.

The stores would be part of AmazonGo, a cashier-free store concept first launched in Seattle and Chicago in 2016. The stores would sell to-go food, sandwiches and small grocery items.

With Amazon reportedly spending $1 million to launch the Go store in Seattle, location – more than technology – will become key to the stores’ success, according to Jeff Leonard, VP of National Association of Convenience Stores.

“AmazonGo already has no lines,” Lenard told Bloomberg. “The key to success will be convenient locations. If it’s a quarter mile from where people are walking and biking, the novelty of the technology won’t matter. It’s too far away.”

Research: OTT Cancellation Rate 18% in U.S.

The rate of cancellations for OTT video services among U.S. broadband households has held steady over the past three years at approximately 18%, according to research from Parks Associates.

OTT Churn & Cancellation Rates (PRNewsfoto/Parks Associates)

The average subscription length for OTT video services is 30 months overall, although the three top services in the market — Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu — have the most stability, while churn rates for other services tend to be more volatile, according to Parks.

“With OTT service penetration starting to plateau at around 65% adoption among U.S. broadband households, the OTT video market is reaching a level of saturation for the services currently available to consumers,” said Parks research analyst Hunter Sappington in a statement. “In an increasingly crowded and competitive marketplace where subscriber acquisition costs are high, this plateau highlights the need for services to focus on retention rather than solely acquisition. Successful services can encourage retention in several ways, such as community building, continuously offering new and fresh content, and improving their user experience.”

More than 85% of U.S. millennials subscribe to at least one OTT video service, and by 2022, more than 265 million households worldwide will have more than 400 million OTT video service subscriptions, according to Parks.

Parks will examine subscriber churn in the OTT video service landscape in the industry webcast “OTT Churn and Retention: Increasing Lifetime Subscriber Value” Sept. 6, 11 a.m. CT. The webcast is sponsored by Swrve.

IHS: Amazon Device Owners Consume More Prime Video

The adage, “When in Rome …,” appears to apply to owners of Amazon media devices such as Kindle, Echo and Fire TV more than among other streaming device ecosystems.

New data from IHS Markit found that more than two-thirds of Fire TV owners subscribed to Prime Video in the U.S. in the first quarter of 2018 — a higher penetration than for any other connected streaming device, including Roku, Apple TV and Google Chromecast.

This noteworthy as brand loyalty is especially important in video, because entry prices for streaming devices are relatively low, and all of them offer somewhat uniform content offerings, so consumers have a wide range of choices.

While Apple changed the music landscape by tying its transactional music service to hardware more than a decade ago, it is now hard to lock consumers into one content ecosystem.

Consumers expect flexibility and the ability to access their content across devices, so building a fluid ecosystem ensures higher brand loyalty and trust, resulting in increased usage of devices and services and the likelihood of future purchases.

Indeed, Fire TV owners are also more likely to select Prime Video as the “best video service for content on the go” and “flexibility of viewing.” More than 25% of Prime Video subscribers believe Amazon provides the largest content catalog.

They are also twice as likely to turn to Prime Video first when looking for video content to watch.

The findings are part of IHS’ “Connected Devices and Media Consumption” survey conducted in April.

The data would appear to highlight the importance of a proprietary device and user interface that allows consumers to gain access to a wide range of content services, while enabling the device manufacturer to control the user experience.

The value-added benefits of offering streaming devices and video services, in terms of perception and usage along with the ability to maintain their direct-to-consumer relationships and interfaces, has driven other operators and device manufacturers to follow Amazon’s lead, according to IHS.

Fire TV was one of the top sellers in Amazon’s Prime Day in July, and there are rumors of an upcoming user experience update, which is likely to result in improved consumer engagement with Prime Video.

Amazon’s ‘Jack Ryan’ Getting Dolby Treatment

Actor Jack Krasinski’s recent movie, A Quiet Place, stressed silence as a means of survival against extraterrestrial creatures that hunt by sound.

Now, the “The Office” alum is upping the volume in a second season turn as a CIA analyst in “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan,” which begins streaming on Prime Video Aug. 31.

Dolby Laboratories and Amazon announced that the series will be available in both Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision HDR. The combined Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision experience will initially be available on certain Dolby Vision TVs and Dolby Atmos enabled audio devices.

Dolby Vision claims to deliver contrast, color highlights that are up to 40 times brighter than standard TV quality, and blacks that are 10 times darker. When combined, Dolby says the lifelike images and sound “leap from the screen” to make entertainment experiences “truly spectacular.”

“Amazon is committed to delivering immersive and compelling content to our Prime Video members around the world,” Greg Hart, VP of Prime Video, said in a statement. “Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision will enhance the action-packed scenes in ‘Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan’and make viewers feel like they are at the center of the story.”

“Dolby enables spectacular audio and visual experiences that take your favorite entertainment to the next level,” said John Couling, SVP, commercial partnerships, Dolby Labs. “Through our growing work with Amazon, we can now bring more lifelike experiences to Prime members.”

 

 

Amazon Eyeing Mark Cuban’s Landmark Theatres

Amazon reportedly is among several companies looking to acquire Landmark Theatres, the indie exhibitor co-owned by “Shark Tank” veteran and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and his business partner Todd Wagner.

Bloomberg, citing sources familiar with the situation, said Amazon is interested in Landmark as the ecommerce behemoth ventures further into brick-and-mortar businesses. Any deal would be relatively small compared to Amazon’s $13.7 billion acquisition of Los Angeles-based Whole Foods last year.

Landmark operates 50 theaters with 250 screens in 27 markets, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Chicago, New York and Dallas.

The chain last year became one of the few high-profile exhibitors to ink a revenue-sharing agreement with ticket subscription service MoviePass.

With Amazon operating a proprietary studio, ownership of an exhibition venue would technically be in violation of the 70-year-old Paramount Pictures consent decrees, which prohibits studios from owning theaters.

The Justice Department antitrust division earlier this month announced it would revisit the rulings due to changes in the distribution of entertainment.

“The Paramount decrees have been on the books with no sunset provisions since 1949,” Makan Delrahim, head of the Justice Department’s antitrust unit, said in an Aug. 2 statement. “It is high time that these and other legacy judgments are examined to determine whether they still serve to protect competition.”

Delrahim is also responsible for the antitrust litigation filed against the ATT/Time Warner merger, in which a federal judge sided against the government’s claim the merger was anti-consumer. The decision is under appeal.

 

Amazon, Google Smart Speaker Market Hold Under Threat by China

Amazon introduced the first voice-activated smart speaker in 2014 with Alexa and Amazon Echo. According to new data from Strategy Analytics, Amazon’s global smart speaker share of shipments fell to 41% in the second quarter (ended June 30) from 44% in Q1 and 76% in Q2 2017.

By contrast, Google increased its share to 28% in Q2, up from 16% during the same period last year. China’s Alibaba finished third with Apple and JD.com rounding out the top five.

David Watkins, director at Strategy Analytics, says Amazon and Google accounted for a 69% share of global smart speaker shipments in Q2, which was down from more than 90% in Q2 2017.

“The drop is not only a reflection of growing competition in the smart speaker market but also Amazon and Google’s inability to break into the fast-growing Chinese market that is dominated by local powerhouse brands such as Alibaba, JD.com and Baidu,” Watkins said in a statement.

Indeed, Strategy Analytics contends China has the potential to become a lucrative market for smart speakers driven by voice-activated software – as underscored by Google’s recent $500 million strategic partnership with Chinese ecommerce giant JD.com.

David Mercer, VP at Strategy Analytics, believes Google and Amazon’s pursuit of volume over margin has made it difficult for third-party entry-level speakers entering the market with similar features.

However, Mercer contends the premium end of the market offers opportunity to vendors such as Roku who can entice consumers with superior build and audio quality.

“Early adopters of low-cost smart speakers such as the Echo Dot or Google Home Mini who are now looking to buy a second device will be a key target demographic for such vendors,” he said. “Apple has established an early lead in the premium smart speaker market, benefiting from a fiercely loyal fan base and strong momentum behind its Apple Music service. However, we expect the higher end smart speaker market to grow and become much more competitive moving forwards as vendors such as Samsung with its Galaxy Home speaker look to capitalize on the growing acceptance of voice as an established control mechanism.”

 

Summit Explores OTT’s Promise and Pitfalls

The opportunities and pitfalls of the over-the-top market were the leading subjects of the OTT & Video Distribution Summit taking place Aug. 2 in Marina del Rey, Calif.

Consumers are cutting the cord with their cable companies and moving to OTT because of its superior value, including better choice and lower cost.

“Consumers have basically said, ‘We’re paying too much. I don’t want to watch all those channels,’” said panelist Mickey Alpert, president and CEO, Merisco Solutions, and former EVP at Cablevision.

“Cable companies are literally the most hated companies in America,” said keynote speaker Jeff Binder, EVP, home and entertainment, T-Mobile U.S., because they are regional monopolies and don’t have to cater to customers.

In addition to OTT services peeling away video subscribers, another threat to cable is the coming 5G technology, which will be a “game-changing technology,” he said. Cable companies that have been able to lean on broadband fees, even as cord cutters have eschewed buying a video subscription, may find customers can get rid of broadband with 5G.

“There are changes around connectivity that are coming that are probably a bigger story in some ways I think than the story about how the content industry is changing,” Binder said.

“4G changed the way all of you use your phone; 5G is going to change the way all of us use our home as well as our phone,” he said.

For now, though, it’s the chance to get the content they want at a lower price that is drawing consumers to OTT services.

“Customers value choice and flexibility,” said panelist Kathy Payne, head of content acquisition management, Amazon Channels. “At Amazon, we’ve decided we’d like to offer channels a la carte.”

Amazon Channels aggregates such OTT subscription services as HBO, Showtime and Starz. There are more than 150 channels offered in the United States, Payne said, not to mention the hundreds available internationally.

“We’ve heard from customers loud and clear that they like the option to just buy channels a la carte,” she said. “It’s really easy to come in and pick what they want.”

In addition to a la carte there are bundled OTT services that are making a go of it, such as Philo, which started in colleges. “It’s a TV package that hasn’t really been available before. [It’s a service] without paying this huge amount for sports,” noted keynoter Andrew McCollum, Philo CEO.

There are also ad-supported services that offer programming to consumers for free. Roku Channel has aggregated some of those. Roku’s Seth Walters, VP, demand partnerships, called it “our sandbox for creating our most premium ad-supported service on Roku.”

Making a go of it as a new OTT service is a challenge. The number of domestic OTT services has reached more than 200, with the three top players dominating, noted Brett Sappington, senior director of research, Parks Associates.

“It’s Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and everybody else,” he said, adding there is a second tier of services, such as HBO, Showtime, Starz and CBS, that range from 1 million to 5 million subscribers.

A smaller service must differentiate itself and appeal to a niche, rather than try to compete with the big pocketed broad services offered by Netflix and others, he said.

“If you cannot specifically identify who your customers are then you’re probably not going to be successful,” he said.

Offering exclusive or new content helps, as consumers rank new release or original content as most important, according to Parks research.

Many OTT services overlook marketing, and that’s a mistake, Sappington said. Startups “don’t realize the marketing costs involved,” he said.

He praised the marketing efforts of independent film streaming service Fandor, mentioned in a panel at the summit. Panelist Felice Oper, COO of Fandor, said they had sold 290,000 subscriptions through a Costco bundle with subscription theater ticket service MoviePass in just two and a half months.

“It was a very successful transaction,” Oper said. “We’re still working with Costco.”

Keynoter Darcy Antonellis, of Amdocs-owned Vubiquity, talked about the international reach of the OTT business and the services her company supplies it, noting her team is often on a plane.

“We all have to be thinking global,” she said.

“It’s all about understanding where the audiences are,” she added. “It’s an on-demand world, but it has to be in a form and a language for a particular culture.”

She offered an anecdote about a viewing spike at 3 p.m. that they found involved parents waiting for their kids to get out of school. She said the industry must start to understand how to service consumers when and where they need entertainment.

A prominent woman in the industry, she also addressed the dearth of women in the entertainment and technology business. Having mentored girls 8-13, she noticed, “You could almost set your watch, because of peer pressure, when they were gonna shut off STEM [science, technology, engineering and math].”

“It’s a real challenge for our country,” she said. “You don’t want any room as smart as one brain, and you don’t want any room as smart as a collection of similar brains.”

‘The Romanoffs’ to Debut Oct. 12 on Amazon Prime

Amazon Prime Video announced the Oct. 12 premiere of “The Romanoffs” at the Television Critics Association Summer 2018 Press Tour over the weekend.

The SVOD service also released a new teaser revealing the line-up of guest stars featured in the series created, written, directed and executive produced by nine-time Emmy award winner Matthew Weiner (“Mad Men”).

“The Romanoffs” is a contemporary anthology series, set around the globe, featuring eight separate stories about people who believe themselves to be descendants of the Russian royal family. The series was shot on location on three continents and in seven countries collaborating with local productions and talent across Europe, the Americas, and the Far East, according to an Amazon release. Each story takes place in a new location with a new cast.

In addition to the previously announced cast, including Isabelle Huppert, Diane Lane, Christina Hendricks, Paul Reiser, Amanda Peet and John Slattery, Amazon announced guest stars, including Noah Wyle (“Falling Skies”), Kathryn Hahn (“Transparent”), Kerry Bishe (“Halt and Catch Fire”), Jay R. Ferguson (“Mad Men”), Ben Miles (“Collateral”), Mary Kay Place (“Big Love”), Griffin Dunne (“Imposters”), Cara Buono (“Mad Men”), Ron Livingston (The Conjuring), Clea DuVall (“Veep”), Radha Mitchell, (Silent Hill) and Hugh Skinner (Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again).

Amazon Posts 38% Sales Gain While Net Income Soars in Q2

Amazon July 26 reported second-quarter (ended June 30) online “stores” sales of $27.1 billion, up 14% from ecommerce revenue of $23.7 billion during the previous fiscal period.

The ecommerce behemoth says online stores revenue includes product sales, physical and digital media, such as books, music, videos, games, and software. This includes digital products sold on a transactional basis such as Amazon Instant Video.

Digital subscriptions that provide Prime members unlimited viewing (Prime Video) or usage rights from third parties (via Amazon Channels) generated $3.4 billion, up 57% from revenue of $2.1 billion last year.

Total North American revenue, which includes third-party sellers, topped $32.1 billion, up 44% from $22.3 billion during the previous-year period. Operating income topped $1.8 billion from $436 million last year.

International revenue increased 27% to $14.6 billion from $11.8 billion last year. Operating loss decreased to $494 million from an operating loss of $724 million last year.

Amazon Web Services generated operating income of $1.6 billion, up nearly 75% from $916 million last year. Revenue topped $6.1 billion, up 48% from $4.1 billion last year.

Home entertainment-related highlights during the quarter:

  • Amazon and Best Buy released the first of the next generation Fire TV Edition smart TVs to customers in the U.S. The new Toshiba 4K TVs are now available for purchase in Best Buy stores and online at bestbuy.com and amazon.com, with additional models coming later this year to customers in the U.S. and Canada.
  • Amazon announced the Fire TV Cube, a 4K Ultra HD streaming media player with Alexa that allows customers to control the TV with their voice. Fire TV Cube uses multi-directional infrared technology, cloud-based protocols, and HDMI CEC to control compatible TVs, sound bars, cable and satellite boxes, and AV receivers.
  • Amazon introduced the Fire HD 10 Kids Edition, which comes bundled with a Fire HD 10 tablet, a year of Amazon FreeTime Unlimited, a kid-proof case, and a two-year worry-free guarantee. Additionally, Amazon FreeTime Unlimited is now available on iOS devices, offering kids access to over 10,000 age-appropriate books, movies, and TV shows.
  • Amazon announced Show Mode and the Show Mode Charging Dock for Fire HD 8 and Fire HD 10 tablets. Show Mode offers a hands-free Alexa experience with full screen visual responses. The Show Mode Charging Dock automatically switches Fire HD tablets into Show Mode and holds the device at an adjustable angle while charging.
  • Amazon Prime Video received 22 Emmy nominations for its original programming, including 14 nominations for comedy series “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”
  • Prime Video and the National Football League renewed their streaming partnership for Thursday Night Football, which will be available globally during the 2018 and 2019 seasons to over 100 million Prime members. Additionally, Prime Video and the Premier League announced that live and exclusive Premier League football matches will be available in the U.K.beginning in 2019 at no extra cost to Prime members.
  • Prime Video debuted the second season of the original series “Goliath,” starring Billy Bob Thornton in his Golden Globe-winning role. Prime Video continues to launch local original series around the world, including “Comicstaan” in India, an unscripted series that looks to discover India’s next big comedic sensation; “Diablo Guardián” in Mexico, based on an award-winning novel of the same name; and season two of “The Bachelor Japan.”
  • Prime Video Channels is now available to Prime members in Japan with more than 30 channels including J Sports, BBC World News, and Nikkei  CNBC Plus.
  • The fourth annual Prime Day was Amazon’s biggest global shopping event ever, welcoming more new Prime members on July 16th than any other previous day in Amazon history. Members purchased more than 100 million products, and the best-selling items worldwide were the Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote and Echo Dot. Small and medium-sized businesses selling on Amazon exceeded $1.5 billion in sales during the Prime Day event. Additionally, Prime members saved millions of dollars at Whole Foods Market with Prime Day deals.