Business

Amazon Makes Its Play To Control The Living Room

The company unveiled a set-top box, the FireTV, at an event in New York today. Although, the device seemed underwhelming for starters.

Amazon unveiled its first foray into the consumer’s living room today: the FireTV, a set-top box powered by Amazon’s software that includes video streaming, among other things, that will cost $99.

It brings Amazon into an already very crowded land-grab for eyeballs in the living room, which includes competitors like Apple’s TV box and Microsoft’s Xbox One, as well as a smattering of smaller players like Roku. The device features not only Amazon’s Prime streaming videos, but Netflix and a number of other apps also featured on other set-top boxes — though, unlike devices like the Apple TV, it will not feature HBO GO.

A lot of industry watchers were underwhelmed by the press event, given that the product is entering an already a crowded market and the device doesn’t seem to add all that much to the overall television viewing experience. The FireTV does include the ability to search for movies and TV shows by using voice search by talking into the remote, but for just about everything else, it’s pretty much gives consumers the same things as what other set-top boxes offer.

Still, the FireTV will be another set-top box that will include Netflix. The lack of HBO GO, which is often due to legacy arrangements with cable distributors, could in the end actually help Netflix gain more mind share through the FireTV. As BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield put it in a tweet, “More IP-enabled TVs the better for [Netflix] — makes it easier to get to their service on the big screen.”

The FireTV does include some games, but again, it doesn’t seem like a direct competitor to more powerful gaming consoles like the Xbox One or PlayStation 4. Amazon says there will be “thousands” of games available by next month from publishers like Sega, Ubisoft, Electronic Arts, and Disney.

For a company like Amazon, it’s important to get people within the Amazon Prime ecosystem to buy more things through Amazon — as that is their main business. That they didn’t have a television product already put them well behind video streaming competitors like Hulu and Netflix, and the FireTV basically brings the company back into the playing field.

But the living room has emerged as one of the top battlegrounds for the world’s top technology companies. Google has produced a television-equipped streaming device, the Chromecast, at a scant $35 (and it originally included a free subscription to Netflix for a few months). Apple has one of the widest content libraries in the industry — and also includes HBO Go — and also charges $99 for its device.

Throughout the presentation, Amazon’s Peter Larsen drew comparisons to competitors like the Apple TV, saying the device was faster and had a larger offering of content. But it’s still unclear what kind of value proposition Amazon can offer consumers with its own set top box based on what it’s unveiled so far.

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Matthew Lynley is a business reporter for BuzzFeed News in San Francisco. Lynley reports on Silicon Valley and the tech industry.
Contact this reporter at matthew.lynley@buzzfeed.com
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