Amazon Fire TV VP’s forecast includes news, games—and cars

Amazon Fire TV news app
(Amazon)

Much as the job description for Amazon’s Alexa has expanded greatly since it arrived as a sometimes-confused interlocutor inside Echo devices, the company’s Fire TV now looks on the verge of experiencing a similar sort of mission creep.

In a keynote interview at FierceVideo’s StreamTV Show, Fire TV vice president Daniel Rausch explained how both technological developments and the pressure of the pandemic are leading that platform to new roles.

“Cord cutting probably accelerated between one and two years,” he told his interviewer Carolina Milanesi, president and principal analyst at Creative Strategies. “A lot of that was driven by new content types.”

Some of that fare wouldn’t have been that out of place on a cable program grid; Rausch mentioned that when Amazon recently did a survey of trends in content streaming, news topped the list. That should help explain why Fire TV now features free live and on-demand local news apps in 100 U.S. cities.

But he also mentioned a boom in exercise content, saying, “The living room has become the gym.”

Rausch then went on to give a plug to Luna, the game-streaming service Amazon announced last year for some Fire TV, Windows, Mac, iOS, iPadOS and Android devices and now offers at an “early access” rate to invited users of $5.99 a month.

“It’s effectively a $30 console, if you think about it that way,” he said. “That’s unbelievable as a differentiator.”

And soon enough, Fire TV will leave not just the living room but the entire house, thanks to Amazon’s deal with Stellantis to put Fire TV for Auto on the upcoming 2022 Jeep Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer. That implementation will reserve on-the-road screen time to passengers, but Milanesi (noting that this question was required for buzzword compliance) asked about how self-driving cars might affect this.

Rausch’s reply may have glossed over more than a few of the difficulties remaining in making autonomous vehicles safe on American streets: “As trends in self-driving take off, customers will want to and be willing to be more entertained in their vehicles.”

Elsewhere in this roughly 25-minute panel, Rausch held forth for a bit on how the Fire TV platform must both let customers find what they want from a variety of different content sources and suggest entertainment for users who don’t quite know what they want to watch.

The former stresses Fire TV’s voice interface, while the latter challenges its machine-learning models of user tastes. As he put it: “if I just ask for movies, what are the best things to put in front of me?”

Milanesi asked about a more recent difficulty, the chip shortage that has cut into the availability of a wide variety of electronic products.

“We’ve been lucky to be on, I would say, the better end of any constraints,” Rausch replied. Observing that Fire TV now exists in some 80-plus products around the world, from a $30 TV stick to entire TVs running the Fire TV Edition platform, he added: “There’s just some supply security in that diverse range of partners we have.”

Rausch did, however, stick to a well-established script in not getting into specific numbers about Fire TV’s installed base (Amazon said last October that it had sold more than 100 million Fire TV devices) or total audience (the Seattle firm put that as more than 50 million in December).

This reticence is essentially part of the feature set with any Amazon platform. Milanesi acknowledged as much when she kidded Rausch about the futility of asking for specifics about future plans: “Your answer will be very short and you won’t tell me anything.”