Amazon’s Increasing TV Ambitions

Amazon Style Code

In fashion we can see right now quite clearly the broadening of options available to online retailers. Zalando is launching multiple mobile apps as “speed boats”. The latest one was Fleek, combining social aspects and a platform / marketplace approach. At the same time Amazon has launched Style Code Live. A new daily (“Weeknights 9 ET | 6 PT”) live-shopping Internet TV show.

Here are the first reviews of this new show by Amazon. Wired:

Here’s what you can expect on Style Code Live: a lot of informal banter. Hip young hosts (one of them, Frankie Grande, is pop star Ariana Grande’s older half-brother). Well-connected guests (the first episode featured fashion blogger Danielle Bernstein and YouTube star Tati Westbrook). The hosts call on fashion models to “come on out!” At this point women—it’s only been women every time I’ve watched the show—emerge from behind a wall, twirling and posing and modeling the fashion and makeup picked out by the show’s featured fashion expert. Each product is highlighted live in a clickable carousel below, organized in chronological order by show segment. (So far, you can only watch Style Code Live in your browser, not on your phone.) In between the live bits, pre-taped spots from the world of fashion and interviews with celebrities like Prepon fill out the rest of the half-hour or so.

During the live portion of the show, the hosts routinely remind the audience to ask questions via chat—one host actually sits in a corner of the studio with a laptop monitoring the feed. An icon sits in the lower right corner of the screen that people can click on, a la Periscope, to let the hosts know they’re enjoying the show.


“Style Code” is conveniently broken into segments highlighted beneath its player, with thematic titles such as “Cold Shoulder” (for shoulder-baring styles) and “Boho Romo” (for bohemian…romos). As the conversation moves from one header to another, the Carousel updates.

A smaller “Style Links” section clicks through to pages of merchandise that fit the prescribed theme, includes galleries of “Cold Shoulder” tops and breezy dresses. One chat user handily asked about the jumpsuit Smith was wearing and, voila! A “Jumpsuits” category appeared.

“Style Code’s” premiere also featured a pre-taped interview with “Orange is the New Black” star Laura Prepon, there to promote her weight-loss book “The Stash Plan” (also in the Carousel!). It ended with Smith sweetly showing Prepon that she tried out a recipe from the book, resulting in an unidentifiable tan brick that may have been some sort of quick bread. Prepon was visibly touched. (…)

Effectively “Style Code” is the world’s most dynamic shopping catalog hosted by incredibly adorable people who want you to think of them as your personal spree enablers.

One way or another, this show is coming to Amazon’s Fire tablets, which are already more portable TVs than anything else. More interesting though is going to be how Amazon will integrate “Style Code” and other live TV shopping shows into Fire TV.

Here is what I wrote last year about the Fire TV start screen:

If you own a Fire TV set-top box (or a cheaper HMDI stick) the homescreen of your (now smart) TV always looks something like this:

  • A grid of third-party apps, recently added to your device by you or used by you, apps recently added to the Fire app store and so on
  • A sidebar prominently featuring Prime Video for easy access
  • Advertisements above and beyond for content on Prime Video

You can see clearly the difference between content living in third-party apps (like movies on Netflix) and first-party content (movies available for streaming via Amazon). The latter gets promoted and advertised a level above everything else. The difference of what this means in every day use is stark. Every non-Amazon app is in the end a second tier service when it comes to the actual user experience. This doesn’t mean it is a bad user experience to use Netflix on Fire TV. It is actually a perfectly fine experience.It just means Amazon’s services will always have an advantage on Fire TV over their competitors.

This is perfectly suited for, say, pushing Amazon’s own live TV formats. Whenever a user starts up their Fire TV, Amazon can show through a banner that right now, at this moment, a live show can be watched about topic X. Features like the Carousel can be integrated into Fire TV. (easily accessible via its remote)

Amazon is producing original scripted content for its Prime Video service. The biggest video streaming service behind Netflix is one main driver for new Amazon Prime subscriptions. This bundle is inexpensive (Prime, with Prime Video in the mix, is still cheaper than the most popular Netflix plan.), but it still means paying up.

Until now this meant you had to pay to watch video from Amazon, either through your Prime membership or through buying/renting movies and TV shows on Amazon. But recently, Amazon has also launched its first ad-supported original show. Re/code:

On Thursday, the company released the first episode of Season 3 of “The Fashion Fund,” a 10-episode reality show series produced by Conde Nast Entertainment that follows top fashion design contestants as they compete for a $400,000 grand prize. The show is available for free to anyone who visits, so long as they are willing to sit through a few minutes of commercials.

Re/code on the implications of this:

On one hand, it may simply mark Amazon’s entrance into the world of unscripted video programming and nothing more. On another, the calculus to make it free to everyone could be that Amazon wants as many viewers as possible because the site is also selling fashion associated with the show.

Or it could signal that the company’s increasingly powerful media business is set to create a host of exclusive ad-supported shows that are available to everyone, Prime member or not, for free.

I see this as bigger TV ambitions by Amazon. Eventually Amazon is going to offer a lot of free, ad-supported TV to lure people into its TV universe. This makes a Fire TV more attractive. In the process, Amazon gets onto the big screen. (Everything may start on the laptop, but all Amazon TV shows with staying power will eventually come to mobile screens and the big screen.)

In a way, with TV, as with the Echo, Amazon is increasingly targeting to own the home.

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