Amazon Playing the TV Card

amazon-fire-0414In case you missed it, Amazon has joined the STB (set-top-box) brigade with its own Amazon Fire device, as part of its future digital content delivery plans.  A quip from the online press release gives the big picture: “Amazon integrates the hardware, software, and the content into an easy-to-use, seamless, end-to-end service for customers,” and this new STB is just one more piece in that delivery mechanism.

In fact, Amazon, the world’s largest web reseller, is so successful at video streaming, it announced today it has surpassed both Hulu and Apple in streaming video usage from its Prime membership service. That puts the company up there with the big boys in the future of broadcast distribution over the Internet, but it won’t stop there.

Content Production Too

Amazon previously announced it will also produce original content for TV, with a $1M commitment for a pilot comedy series Alpha House. But Yahoo and Microsoft also want into this space, as both announced plans to develop and produce their own original TV content. Yesterday, Yahoo said it was planning to produce four shows, or “original web series” of 30-minute comedy episodes. Meanwhile, Microsoft previously announced it will open up a new TV studio and hired former TV executive (Nancy Tellem, CBS) to deliver content through its Xbox console that doubles as a set-top-box for TV delivery. These web companies join the list of other web delivery services that have moved to producing their own content, most notably, Netflix (House of Cards).

All this didn’t have to be.  Most web businesses probably don’t want to be in the TV production business and would gladly (willingly) distribute popular TV shows and films through their OTT solutions, but the entrenched (old broadcast) industry continues to say Nyet (no), so as it is said, “Mohammed must go to the mountain.”

It’s interesting that some of these web company announcements coincide with the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) show that starts this week in Las Vegas.  It brings to mind thoughts of the original (old) network TV landscape. In the USA, this was a troika of alphabet networks (ABC, CBS, NBC) that cut their teeth in radio, (RCA or Radio Corporation of America) and moved with the help of then-broadcast kingpin David Sarnoff into the Golden Age of television. For a time they were the market.  They produced the content and controlled the schedule that told viewers just when they will consume it. No more. Once viewers had a taste of ala carte viewing (arguably first with time shifting from TiVo) there was no looking back at the old way of doing things.

So at NAB this week, it may be wise to reflect on the Michael Powell (then FCC chair) warning to the broadcast industry one decade ago (2004). “Evolve or Die” was his prognosis, and one look around the show floor speaks to the truth of that vision. In fact, both have happened since that comment was made in an age when the Forbes top technology trend was the laptop overtaking the desktop (and prices as low as $700 by Christmas), flat TVs were mostly $4,000 plasmas, and iPods still only played music. So get ready for the continuing onslaught of web encroachment into broadcast as the evolution continues (as it always will).