Thursday, April 10, 2014

Big Deal: Amazon Fire TV

Amazon Fire TV is a big deal. Why? 

Because it's Amazon, it's new, and it's going up against products from Apple and Google. It's also a big deal for Amazon, because Amazon wants to own the world's content by owning the devices used to deliver and consume the world's content. Fire TV fills a big hole in Amazon's quest for world-content dominance. 

Do I want to buy an Amazon Fire TV? No. I already have an Apple TV, which satisfies my video-streaming and content-casting needs.

If I were new to video streaming would I buy Fire TV? No. It's unable to stream content from my other devices to my TV (content-casting).

Nonetheless, Fire TV has three distinct advantages. It's faster, which doesn't affect streaming performance, but does make the interface more responsive; it includes voice command, so you can speak into the remote to select movies, and there's a game controller available as an additional purchase.

Amazon's Hyperbole Machine

Despite the hyperbolic praise, these are not breakthrough features, and I get the sense that Amazon knows this. To me, there's something sinister behind the huge marketing campaign for Fire TV.

Have you seen the "Gary Busey Meets Amazon Fire TV" ad? It features a mentally-unstable-seeming actor playing himself and talking to inanimate objects. He talks at a Roku remote, nothing, but his Fire TV remote hears him when he says his own name and brings up movies he's in. He smiles an iconic Amazon smile (sort of).

It's a nicely produced ad, but as much a dig at Roku as it is praise for Fire TV. Oddly, makes money selling Roku devices. Isn't there something falsely ingenuous about this? 

What's Up Amazon's Sleeve?

Another example of the games Amazon is playing—let's have a look at Amazon's Apple TV product page. (They make money on these, too.) Looks like any product page, but there's something here I'm having trouble finding on other Amazon listings. There's a banner before the Apple TV information begins: in Amazon-smile orange, is the label, "Similar Items to Consider," which include two Roku models and Google Chromecast.

There isn't a similar banner across the top of the Roku or Chromecast product pages showing Apple TV as a similar item to consider. Nothing like this on the Fire TV page. Is Amazon saying, "We'd rather you didn't buy this product?"

But wait, there's more! Amazon, ever helpful to its customers, has created a "Streaming Media Players Store." More marketing sleight of hand—"Stream your favorite content anywhere, anytime." This statement is the real tip off, because Amazon is really a content store. Buy a Kindle or a Fire TV and you'll be paying for content from Amazon for the rest of your life (or at least for the life of your Amazon-branded device).

George Eastman, Mr. Kodak, made the remarkable discovery that if you give away cameras, you'll be selling film, forever. Ditto for Gillette and razors (the holder, not the blade). Same trick for Polaroid. 

God of Consumerism

Jeff Bezos sees each of us as a consumer, and whatever we want to consume, he's going to sell it to us. He wants all of us to be Amazon consumers, all the time. Fire TV is a trojan horse for content, a way for Bezos to get Amazon into our living rooms and keep everyone else, out!

This first iteration of Fire TV isn't going to win the battle of the living room. For one thing, its customer satisfaction rating on is only 3.7, compared to 3.9 for Chromecast, 4.3 for Roku 3, and 4.4 for Apple TV. 

But if this one isn't quite good enough, you can bet there'll be another, better one. And if that doesn't make it, Bezos can cut prices so low that he's practically giving them away. He's not after huge profits, just total market domination.

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