Amazon Raising Monthly Prime Membership Fee

Amazon is upping the Prime membership fee by 18% for consumers opting to pay on a monthly basis. The $99 annual Prime membership, which includes Prime Video, remains the same.

Amazon said the $10.99 monthly Prime membership is increasing to $12.99, or $156 per year. The ecommerce behemoth is also upping the college student Prime monthly membership to $6.49 from $5.49.

“Prime provides an unparalleled combination of shipping, shopping and entertainment benefits, and we continue to invest in making Prime even more valuable for our members,” Amazon said in a statement.

Amazon, which just announced the 20 cities it is considering for its second headquarters, said it has increased free two-day shipping from 20 million items to more than 100 million.

 

Lionsgate Stock Jumps on Acquisition Scuttlebutt

Lionsgate’s stock took a mid-morning bounce Jan. 18 following media reports the studio/distributor is in the M&A crosshairs of media giants Amazon, Verizon, CBS and Viacom.

Shares increased 5% the day after a Deadline.com report – citing sources familiar with the situation – said the Santa Monica, Calif.-based company was in active merger discussions. Lionsgate shares have increased 20% in value since last November.

Lionsgate, which is headed by CEO Jon Feltheimer, has a box office hit in Wonder, which has generated $120 million at the box office since Thanksgiving. The studio ranks fourth in nascent domestic box office.

With Disney’s pending $52.4 billion acquisition of 20th Century Fox, consolidation within the media industry has renewed interest as online powers Netflix and Amazon expand their entertainment prowess globally.

Lionsgate, which has a robust home entertainment business, in addition to multiple digital ventures, is also a major producer of television content. The company’s $4.4 billion purchase of Starz in 2016 underscoring further its presence in premium television.

The company has also expressed interest in ancillary revenue streams, including a theme park in South Korea and live theatrical productions – ventures that require significant capital investment.

Last August, Reuters reported merger negotiations between Lionsgate and Hasbro ended following an impasse on the price.

Michael Burns, vice chairman of Lionsgate, last month told CNBC the Disney/Fox pact was good news since it eliminates one competitor from the market, while further validating the value of content.

“I think Lionsgate actually thrives in chaos. You’re in a place right now where you are going to see serious consolidation out there,” Burns said.

Lionsgate reports third quarter results Feb. 8.

Amazon Narrows List of Second HQ Contenders to 20

Amazon this morning announced it has narrowed to 20 the number of locations in the running as the site of the e-commerce giant’s second headquarters.

Finalists include the country’s three biggest cities, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, as well as one Canadian city, Toronto.

The company said it has reviewed 238 proposals from across the United States, Canada, and Mexico from cities vying to host HQ2, the company’s second headquarters in North America.

Today, Amazon announced it has selected the following 20 metropolitan areas to move to the next phase of the process (in alphabetical order):

  • Atlanta
  • Austin, Texas
  • Boston
  • Chicago
  • Columbus, Ohio
  • Dallas
  • Denver
  • Indianapolis, Indiana
  • Los Angeles
  • Miami
  • Montgomery County, Maryland
  • Nashville, Tennessee
  • Newark, New Jersey
  • New York City
  • Northern Virginia
  • Philadelphia
  • Pittsburgh
  • Raleigh, North Carolina
  • Toronto, Ontario
  • Washington, D.C.

 

“Thank you to all 238 communities that submitted proposals,” said Holly Sullivan of Amazon Public Policy. “Getting from 238 to 20 was very tough – all the proposals showed tremendous enthusiasm and creativity.”

Amazon says its HQ2 will be a complete headquarters, not a satellite office. The company says it plans to invest over $5 billion and grow this second headquarters to accommodate as many as 50,000 high-paying jobs.

The selection process, initially announced last September, now moves into a second phase. The company says that in the coming months, it will work with each of the candidate locations “to dive deeper into their proposals, request additional information, and evaluate the feasibility of a future partnership that can accommodate the company’s hiring plans as well as benefit its employees and the local community.”

Amazon expects to make a decision later this year.

Amazon Bridging the Netflix Divide?

Reed Hastings’ “awfully scary” competitor – Amazon – is gaining traction, narrowing the divide with the subscription streaming video pioneer, according to some observers.

With more than 100 million subscribers worldwide and growing, Netflix wouldn’t appear to have concern about any competitor. But Amazon is much more than over-the-top video. It is an ecommerce behemoth capable of treating video as a loss leader.

“How are they doing so many business areas so well?” Hastings told CNBC last May. “They are trying to repeal the basic laws of business. They are awfully scary I would say.”

Indeed, there were about 44 million subscribers to Prime Video, with a little more than 30 million from the United States and 11 million from Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom, according to IHS Markit.

Prime Video subscriptions are projected to grow to 78 million by 2021.

More importantly, Amazon Prime, which includes video, music and other services, is now available in 16 countries. Prime members account for almost 99% of the total Prime Video subscription user base.

In fact, Amazon’s attempt at standalone Prime Video internationally has struggled as due to geographic content license challenges. IHS says Prime Video offering are not consistent across countries, with details of both Prime and Prime Video modules differing significantly by country.

Yet, Prime Video boasts a higher subscriber count in a few select markets than Netflix – due primarily to the perceived value of the bundled Prime ecosystem.

Using the value of the Prime bundle, Prime Video have already managed to surpass Netflix subs in Germany, India and Japan, according to IHS.

Prime Video has grown beyond catalog TV shows and movies. It now features à la carte third-party video services through Amazon Channels, live sports and user-generated content.

This diversity of content enables Amazon to tap into markets and customers that global rival Netflix has yet to reach.

“Although predominantly an e-commerce company, Amazon is making full use of its video services to spread its brand name across the world, push its Prime product in localized markets and draw people into the Amazon ecosystem,” Max Signorelli, research analyst, home entertainment, IHS Markit, said in a statement.

Amazon Upping Indie Film Compensation

Amazon Jan. 11 announced it is nearly doubling compensation to independent movies and documentaries participating in the Amazon Video Direct Film Festival Stars platform.

The program, which affords creators direct access to millions of Prime members through streaming video, paid out $5.8 million in one-time bonuses to more than 100 titles from the 2017 Toronto Film Festival.

Content included City of Toronto Award winner for Best Canadian First Feature Film, Luk’Luk’l, Toronto Platform Prize winner, Félécite, and Oscar shortlisted for documentary feature, Ex Libris – The New York Public Library.

The program, which doubled Toronto Film Festival cash bonuses, will be offered for this month’s 2018 Sundance Film Festival.

Specifically, Sundance participants could get one-time payments of $150,000 for movie premiers and $120,000 for documentary premiers, among other compensation.

Citing distribution challenges for short films, Amazon is also bowing a FFS Short Film program at Sundance, similar to a campaign launched at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2017.

Amazon also established a $50,000 cash bonus pool for official selection Sundance short films to be shared among the five most-streamed short films offered by Amazon Video Direct from Oct. 1 – Dec. 31, 2018.

“Amazon’s FFS program is a much-needed breath of fresh air for … independent and foreign language,” Jon Gerrans, co-president, Strand Releasing, said in a statement. “We know the audience still exists for these films and … curated FFS programming is helping to connect that audience around the world with these wonderful films.”

Internet Trade Group Vows Net Neutrality Legal Fight

The Internet Association, a trade group comprised of major online companies, including Netflix, Google, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft, is planning legal action following the Federal Communications Commission’s December rollback of net neutrality provisions.

The FCC, in a 3-2 vote along partisan lines, backed a proposal from chairman Ajit Pai to stop regulating the Web as a utility under Title II of the Telecommunications Act of 1934.

Specifically, the “Restoring Internet Freedom Order” gives Internet Service Providers such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon more influence over third-party broadband access and costs, among other issues.

Internet Association CEO Michael Beckerman, in a Jan. 5 statement following formal FCC disclosure of the rollback, said the action will gut net neutrality protections for consumers, startups, and other stakeholders.

Beckerman said the group intends to act as an intervenor in judicial action against the order and, along with member companies, continue pushing to restore “enforceable” net neutrality protections through the legislative process.

“The final version of Chairman Pai’s rule, as expected, … defies the will of a bipartisan majority of Americans and fails to preserve a free and open internet,” Beckerman said.

 

CES 2018 Mission: Improving the Home Entertainment Experience

More than 4,000 companies have arrived in Las Vegas for CES 2018, the world’s largest tech show, with many hoping to improve the home entertainment experience.

In addition to omnipresent television makers touting larger skinnier 4K UHD displays, CES promises myriad smart home enhancements – many featuring voice-activation.

With research firm Gartner predicting that, by 2019, at least 25% of households in developed economies would rely on digital assistants, competition to help people more easily consume anything from pizza to a movie from the comfort of the sofa has become fierce.

“Innovations such as voice control have increased consumer interest in solutions that enhance the entertainment experience,” said Elizabeth Parks, SVP at Parks Associates.

Google, for example, is coming to CES hoping to up its 25% market share of the smart speaker market, according to Strategy Analytics. Amazon Echo currently commands a 67% market share.

Both companies (and Apple) sell digital movies and TV shows, including 2014 sci-fi hit Ex Machina. Seems natural to order the Oscar-winner by voice-command.

“You should have the same assistant helping you across all the contexts of your life,” Scott Huffman, VP for Google Assistant, told The Washington Post, whose founder/CEO Jeff Bezos owns Amazon.

But what good is virtual assistance if you can’t live forever, looking like George Clooney?

Netflix has a solution, showcasing the pending original series “Altered Carbon,” which launches globally Feb. 2. The streaming giant “partnered” with PsychaSec, the fictional company whose tech underscores the cyberpunk sci-fi series about technological advances that allow one to extend life indefinitely – without arguably selling your soul to the Devil, a.k.a., “The Picture of Dorian Gray.”

Twentieth Century Fox, Panasonic and Samsung will present updates for HDR10+, the open-source High Dynamic Range platform Samsung began pushing last year to avoid paying HDR royalties to Dolby Vision.

Amazon Prime Video has already incorporated the enhanced 4K UHD format for original content “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan,” comedy “Jean-Claude Van Johnson,” and “The Tick,” among others.

Chinese TV manufacturer TCL Jan. 8 will announce plans to join Roku’s “Whole Home Entertainment Licensing Program,” a new platform enabling OEM brands to incorporate voice-activated Roku Connect software as a home entertainment network. TCL manufactures Roku-branded TVs.

“Consumers will love the benefits of … having more affordable options – using their voice, having a simplified set up and Wi-Fi connectivity, and holding just one remote control,” said Roku founder/CEO Anthony Wood.

Seeking to make sense of it all, Hulu CEO Randy Freer joins Turner CEO John Martin Jan. 10 on a keynote panel titled “Reimagining Television.” Freer and Martin are slated to discuss how technology companies are moving into content creation, while content companies are expanding digital distribution. The panel takes place at Monte Carlo’s Park Theater.

Finally, leave it to French furniture maker Miliboo to feature a smart sofa allowing users to wirelessly charge cell phones and related portable devices while watching TV.

Even smarter: The sofa tracks how long you’ve been a couch potato, while monitoring the effects on your body’s posture.

Chinese TV Maker Hisense Selects Amazon Alexa

Following an industry trend linking voice-activated technology with consumer electronics, Chinese TV manufacturer Hisense and Amazon Jan. 3 announced the ecommerce behemoth’s voice-control system Alexa will be available for the first time on select models of Hisense 4K Smart TVs – including a 100-inch UHD Laser TV.

Hisense’s Smart TVs include apps from Netflix, Amazon Video and YouTube, among others. In addition, Alexa-enabled Hisense 4K Smart TVs will offer a wide variety of voice features to help users control certain primary functions, including voice commands, changing inputs and controlling volume.

Alexa also connects to music services like iHeartRadio and Pandora, in addition to myriad skills enabling users to shop for groceries, gifts and ordering take-out. Alexa also enables users to connect to other smart home products, including lights, air conditioner, heater and other connected devices.

“While content providers and other TV manufacturers tend to focus on quantity of content, Hisense recognizes that the future is all about simplicity, making it easy for consumers to find and watch their favorite content, play music, control their smart home and more,” Mark Viken, VP of marketing, said in a statement.

Notably, Hisense entered the U.S. market manufacturing branded Roku TVs, while opting not to use the streaming media device pioneer’s new voice-activated technology. Indeed, Hisense has a history of incorporating Alexa in smart home products.

“[Hisense is] bringing Alexa directly to customers’ living rooms,” said Steve Rabuchin, VP, Amazon Alexa. “This means customers can do things like turn the volume up, control their smart home, get a movie recommendation or even order dinner on select models – with just their voice.”

 

 

Amazon Yanks YouTube App From Fire TV Devices

Amazon has reportedly pulled the YouTube app from Fire TV devices – ahead of the Jan. 1, 2018 deadline Google previously imposed on the ecommerce behemoth for its alleged lack of the support for Prime Video on Chromecast.

On its website, Amazon directed YouTube users to Firefox or Silk browsers to access the streaming video platform, according to FastCompany.com.

The Amazon website lists Google’s Chromecast Ultra streaming media device as “currently unavailable.”

“We don’t know when or if this item will be back in stock,” reads a message on the page.

The feud underscores increasing tensions among the tech giants eager to expand distribution channels among consumers for proprietary and licensed original video.

(This article previously appeared in Home Media Magazine.)