With the notable exception of YouTube, free streaming video services have usually flown under the radar of media watchers in recent years. Even as the number of players in the field grew, media and analysts has been mostly focused on subscription services like Netflix and Hulu, and virtual multichannel video providers like Sling TV and DirecTV Now.
Now, however, Amazon’s reported entry into the space, following a similar move by the connected TV platform leader Roku, is set to jumpstart interest in a part of the video landscape that has heretofore been somewhat under-covered.
In case you missed the news: Amazon is said to be developing a free, ad-supported streaming service (possibly called “Free Dive”) that will be built into the company’s Fire TV platform.
Fire TV is among the most popular connected TV platforms, close behind market leader Roku, and very close to Apple’s Apple TV platform.
Until now, most of the players in the free streaming video space have been content companies, like Sony’s Crackle, and technology companies with unique distribution or presentation strategies, like Tubi TV and Xumo.
All of these companies have made an effort to be present on connected TV platforms, including Roku, Fire TV, Android TV and Apple TV, in addition to mobile devices, and in some cases on desktop.
Of course, for long-form video, the TV screen is viewed as the most desirable place to be, and where so much investment is being spent.
With the increasing focus on the TV glass, the platforms are trying to get into the game. First came Roku with The Roku Channel, an endeavor that has been so successful that the company is now trying to bring the channel to other platforms.
Now it’s Amazon’s turn. The benefit to platforms is substantial: they control the platform, so they can use that scale to drive viewership to their own channel. With most free offerings built around non-exclusive content, that power to drive eyeballs is a powerful one.
The real prize, of course, is advertising revenue, with technology-driven companies like Roku and Amazon poised to leverage their data and product expertise to drive programmatic advertising and a more engaging viewer experience.
For marketers, Amazon and Roku’s foray into free content also means that more premium inventory will be available to buy, with the backing of established companies that use sound technology and analytics.
While Netflix, Hulu and YouTube won’t be disappearing from media diets anytime soon, it's becoming increasingly clear that there is an opening in the market for other free streaming options. As technology companies, content companies and the big platforms all jockey for eyeballs, consumers and marketers are likely to be the beneficiaries.