Where There's Smoke, There's Fire (TV)?

Months of whisperings and public murmurings have finally led to the unveiling of Amazon’s over-the-top (OTT) device, the fireTV. Myriad of articles have focused on its set-top-boxed characteristics in comparison with “living room” rivals (Apple’s TV, Google’s Chromecast, Roku’s No. 3, and Xbox’s One and Live). Pricing, size, sticks, and video and audio streaming service apps offered have been vivisected, further amplifying the premise that cord-cutting is only a scissor away – so the media pundits augur. Take a look:

-- Amazon Fire TV

Cost: $99.99

Content: Amazon Instant Video, Bloomberg, ESPN, Hulu, iHeart Radio, Netflix, Showtime, Vevo

-- Apple TV

Cost: $99.99

Content: Bloomberg, ESPN, Hulu, iHeart Radio, iTunes, MLB.TV, NBA League Pass, Netflix, NHL GameCenter, Showtime, Vevo, Vimeo, YouTube

-- Google Chromecast



Cost: $35

Content: Crackle, Google Play, HBO Go, Hulu Plus, Netflix, Pandora, Rdio, Vudu, YouTube

-- Roku 3 & Roku Stick

Cost: $99.99 and $35

Content: Amazon Instant Video, HBO Go, Hulu, Netflix, Redbox Instant, Showtime, YouTube and Original Channels (1000)

Source: The New York Times, B&C, The Wall Street Journal

Inexpensive hardware, promising on-demand programming options, mass hypothesized migration from expensive pay TV services, and rivalry between digital media behemoths (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft) have fueled trade coverage. Mostly smoke, in my estimation. Through all of the ink and marketing promotion, OTT device deployment has only peeled away errant subscribers of the 95 million customers of cablers, satcasters and telcos. Oftentimes, the devices are purchased in addition to existing pay TV subscriptions.

The fire resides in the new challenge for distribution hegemony. Not content versus distribution – a debate that commenced in the 1990s and dissipated, as all agreed that content reigns supreme after CBS brought cabler Time Warner to its knees last fall in its retransmission fee negotiation. But rather, the heat will be generated by the friction between hardware and software competitors.  Each of the aforementioned digital Goliaths has been ramping up device manufacturing to augment customer loyalty through a halo affect and extend control over their software services. As CBS humbled Time Warner Cable last September, Apple launched its iTunes Radio app. To access the app, all one had to do if one owned an iOS device or Mac computer was to update to the latest software.  Distribution of content has never been simpler -- providing of course, there is sibling hardware.

Whether Amazon’s fireTV succeeds or not, in its present guise, the gaze of the media community should focus on how Amazon (and its rivals) plans to roll up its everything-commerce software applications and transactional data -- music, TV, electronics, books, audiobooks, instant video, marketplace, video games, food -- within its present and future hardware/device distribution. The battle over the living room is but one theater of operations, however grandiose, one that in most probability will glean little OTT traction. With that said, between the cloud, the Internet of Things, software and distribution of devices, competing technologies will be battling over the household -- one room at a time.

1 comment about "Where There's Smoke, There's Fire (TV)?".
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  1. Michael Greeson from TDG, May 17, 2014 at 5:43 p.m.

    TDG has written about this "roll up" in prior reports and has just released an eBook that speaks to the emergence of the 'Big Four' web video ecosystems, including Apple, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft. From operating systems to content production, these companies are building comprehensive ecosystems that will challenge the traditional TV industry, and on many fronts.

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