Amazon Joining the Dongle Battle To Control (The Side Of) Your TV Set?

And now, a battle of the dongles.

As reported by TechCrunch, coming soon to the side of a television near you will be Amazon’s own stick-like/Bic-like device allowing consumers to access Amazon Prime wirelessly on the big TV.

A major difference between this and Google’s Chromecast is this: The Amazon device may accommodate streaming PC gaming titles, and while that’s a part of the online entertainment metroplex that doesn’t get as much attention from online video fans, it’s obviously a huge draw. 58% of all Americans play, and 51% of U.S. homes have a game console. Amazon already sells downloadable games on its commerce site, so this could be a great synergistic business.

Amazon seems to be taking a more populist route with its streaming service, giving Netflix the industry-leader/high-road halo, while it beats around with the video groundlings out there. Its own offerings are a little more plebeian—OK, some of them are just plain stupid—but as online video grows, it will be just as true that no one goes broke underestimating the public. I mean, look at YouTube.

Maybe more than most, Amazon also gets the value proposition because first and foremost, it’s a low-cost retailer, so its Amazon Instant Prime comes with the kind of typical buy-one-get-one-free deal consumers understand. (I refuse to further popularize “BOGOF.”)  I paid $79 for a subscription and also got free two-day shipping and some extra Kindle goodies. I’ll admit, I’ve terribly abused the two-day shipping thing ever since, but I’ve also upped my shopping there.

A little less buyer friendly is Amazon’s announcement it’s raising the price $20 for people who subscribe after tomorrow.

But who knows about the impending dongle? It will be in competition with Google’s Chromecast, which at $35 is the kind of cost even doodad-averse types can swallow. Roku’s Streaming Stick, at $50, has features Chromecast doesn’t. 

For people who are doodad-suckers, on the other hand, it’s pretty easy to start collecting those suckers, one for every member of the family. And each has some slim reed of advantage.

Apple TV is still to be heard from, but that may be next month. One thing Apple TV won’t be, apparently, is a TV itself.  As if speaking from his grave, Steve Jobs has determined the TV-set  business has bad margins—hey, you don’t have to be dead to know that.  

But according to a new book Haunted, Empire: Apple After Steve Jobs by former Wall Street Journal scribe Iwatani Kan, Jobs splashed cold water on the TV set thing at a company retreat in 2010 for that reason, and basically referred to the whole TV thing as a kind of a hobby for idle multimillionaires. (Of course, that was 2010.) But Apple is still due to upgrade/change/reinvent  its AppleTV settop any time now.  

All of this would seem to suggest a big rumble of subscriber losses for cable/telco/satellite providers.  It really doesn’t seem to be happening. A new Leichtman Research report says that last year, the top 13 multichannel video programming distributors (I also don’t want to be one of those people who says MVPDs) lost a whopping 105,000 video subscribers. That’s almost the entire population of Allentown, Pennsylvania!  Anecdotally, it does seem the Comcasts of the world are stodgy old beasts, but they also seem to be holding their own, and just dropping a few.

As these dongles suggest, it’s not for a lack of options.

pj@mediapost.com

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