Amazon bids to spark new markets for Fire TV

Amazon is getting more aggressive in growing its Fire TV business in Europe. (Amazon)

BERLIN—Amazon is enlisting outside help to kindle further interest in its Fire TV platform.

At an event here Wednesday on the eve of the IFA electronics trade show, the Seattle tech giant announced hardware, retail and content partnerships intended to get that streaming-media system in front of more eyes and ears.

“I think what you saw for us today is that goal to expand continuously in new markets,” Sandeep Gupta, vice president of product development for Fire TV, said in an interview after the event.

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The gadgets unveiled Wednesday night included Amazon’s first soundbar, the Nebula Soundbar, developed with Anker. That $230 Fire TV device ($270 in Canada, £180 in the United Kingdom, €210 in Germany, shipping Nov. 21) includes 4K UHD support and Alexa voice input via its remote control.

Amazon also announced an updated Fire TV Cube—the first appearance of that $120 streaming player in Canada, Germany, Japan and the U.K.—with faster voice control.

Amazon’s other hardware news featured other companies’ work. Amazon is expanding its connected-TV initiative with a lineup of 11 Fire TV Edition sets from Grundig. Their screens, using LCD or OLED technology, range from 32 inches to 65 inches, with prices starting at €239.99.

The Grundig model demonstrated onstage missed a command spoken in German. Alexa has lagged in language support; Amazon’s Alexa Skills Kit, for example, is limited to English, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, and Spanish.

European shoppers will also soon see Fire TV Edition sets from JVC and ok, the private label of the German retailer MediaMarktSaturn.

Amazon could use a boost in connected TVs. Notwithstanding U.S. deals with Toshiba and Best Buy’s Insignia private label--“Toshiba and Insignia in the U.S. have done very well for us,” Gupta said—the company remains an afterthought in that sector.

But, while Amazon’s rival Roku can feel confident with its connected-TV share, an analyst who attended Amazon’s event said set manufacturers should not.

“It really is one further nail in the coffin of the legacy OEM TV manufacturers having control of their interface,” noted Mark Vena, senior analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy.

Fire TV vice president Marc Whitten said at the event that Fire TV now has more than 37 million active users, an increase from the 34 million that Amazon head of Fire TV sales, marketing and engagement Jennifer Prenner cited at the Pay TV Show in May.

Local content represented the other major pillar of Amazon’s news. The company emphasized its work to support European content, touting a deal with the Discovery subsidiary Eurosport and such locally relevant Prime Video shows as “Deutschland 86” in Germany and “Six Dreams” in Spain.

“In these markets, it's an even higher priority,” Gupta said, pointing to the public funding of such state-owned networks as the BBC.

“They are going very hard for localized content,” Vena said. “It helps create stickiness.”

Europe’s strict privacy rules could create some stickiness of their own, but Gupta voiced no concern over meeting the detailed restrictions of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation: “We haven't had to do anything dramatic in these markets.”

(Disclosure: IFA’s organizers are covering the travel expenses of a group of U.S.-based journalists and analysts that includes this story’s author.)

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