Here’s Amazon‘s long-awaited answer to Apple TV — and other streaming devices including Google’s Chromecast and Roku TV. It’s a lot more expensive than the $35 Chromecast, but Amazon says that its Amazon Fire TV packs better technology and offers access to more services — including access to Amazon Instant Video, Netflix Showtime Anytime, Hulu Plus, and WatchESPN (but not HBO GO) — as well as potentially thousands of games. The Fire comes with 2GB of memory, a quad core processor, and dual band Wi-Fi. CEO Jeff Bezos boasts that the voice search feature “actually works” which means “no more typing on an alphabet grid.” The remote control works even if it isn’t pointed directly at the device. And for those who have state-of-the-art home theaters, it outputs 1080p HD video and Dolby Digital Plus surround sound. As you might expect from a data-driven company, Amazon Fire has a feature that tries to predict the movies and TV shows you’ll want, and buffers them so they’re ready when you are. It also offers the company’s X-Ray service that enables users to see info about movies, TV shows and music (including lyrics for karaoke fans) — but not its full array of retail products. It syncs with the Amazon Cloud Drive so users can access their personal photos and videos.
Netflix and Amazon are streaming-service rivals, but today the two were united as defendants in a multimillion-dollar defamation and wrongful-termination lawsuit by a former employee of both companies. In his suit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court (read it here), which also names top Netflix execs Reed Hastings and Ted Sarandos as defendants, Jerry Kowal is seeking at least $1 million — and damages potentially worth millions more. The former Director of Content Acquisition for Netflix claims he was “blacklisted” by the company after he left to join Amazon’s streaming business and that Netflix falsely accused him “of stealing confidential information, disclosing confidential information to Amazon, and using confidential information to compete against Netflix.” In what the suit refers to as “the proverbial David and Goliath,” Kowal says Netflix “did everything it could to dissuade him” from leaving to join Amazon. And when he did exit in June after a year on the job, Netflix “proceeded to interfere with Kowal’s employment with Amazon in a malicious attempt to ruin his reputation and prevent him from working there and leverage its substantial business relationship with Amazon to guarantee that Kowal would be terminated from his position at Amazon and would be substantially hindered in his efforts to secure comparable replacement employment.”
UPDATED: Amazon is becoming the steaming home of summer event series. After its success with CBS’ Under The Dome last summer and following the deal for CBS’ upcoming Extant starring Halle Berry, the streaming service also has nabbed the rights to Fox’s upcoming 24: Live Another Day starring Kiefer Sutherland. It is part of a licensing agreement with Twentieth Century Fox Television Distribution that covers all 192 episodes of 24. The eight seasons of the Emmy-winning political thriller and TV movie 24:Redemption, which bridged Seasons 6 and 7, are already available on Prime Instant Video. The pact with Amazon follows the expiration of Fox’s deal for 24 with Netflix, which was the streaming home of the series until today. Amazon’s announcement does not specify the length of the post-broadcast window for 24: Live Another Day but I have learned that the event series is expected to hit the streaming service later in 2014, long after it airs on Fox. Amazon and CBS broke ground last year with their deal for Under The Dome, which made an episode available on Prime Instant Video four days after its premiere on CBS. The same template is being used for Extant.
Amazon might be in the midst of planning an ad-supported streaming TV and music video service, the Wall Street Journal reported today, citing sources close to the company. Amazon isn’t talking, but if true it would be a departure from the site’s Amazon Prime subscription service for a more YouTube- and Hulu-esque model. The e-retailer spent $1 billion on content — acquired and original — last year, according to Cantor Fitzgerald as quoted by WSJ. That has included Amazon Studios‘ original series initiative, under which the service commissions pilots, made available on the Amazon Prime service for feedback from users that is taken into consideration in Amazon Studio’s series pickup decisions. Of Amazon Prime’s first two original series, comedies Alpha House and Betas, Alpha House has been renewed for a second season. Betas has not been looking good for a renewal, but we have learned that Amazon has been in talks with the show’s producers about possibly continuing the show on the proposed new free streaming service. Sources cautioned that there is no deal, with a decision whether to go with the plan or not hinging on analyzing of the economics that is being done right now. Amazon already is expected to announce its set-top box next week to rival Apple TV and Chromecast, according to our sister site BGR, so more clarity might …
Shaun Evans Nabs Male Lead In Amazon Pilot ‘Cosmopolitan’; Victor Rasuk Joins Kevin Williamson Drama Pilot
Shaun Evans (Endeavour) is set as a male lead in Amazon comedy pilot Cosmopolitan, from The Last Days Of Disco filmmaker Whit Stillman. Cosmopolitan, which Stillman wrote and will direct and executive produce, chronicles the loves and adventures of a group of young expatriates in Paris. Evans will play Hal, a divorced, good-looking but somber young man who’s struggling with his most recent heartache in the company of his two best friends, fellow American Jimmy and European Woddy, who’s less than sympathetic. The friend roles have yet to be cast. Evans, repped by Don Buchwald & Associates and Hamilton Hodell in the UK, next will be seen in upcoming feature War Book.
Related: 2014 Amazon Studios Pilots
Victor Rasuk (Raising Victor Vargas) has been cast as a series regular in CBS‘ untitled Kevin Williamson drama pilot, from Warner Bros TV. Written by Williamson and directed by Liz Friedlander, the psychological thriller revolves around two detectives, Beth (Maggie Q) and Jack (Dylan McDermott), who handle stalking incidents for the Threat Assessment Unit of the LAPD. Rasuk will play Ben, an ambitious detective with the Threat Assessment Unit who’s loyal but not entirely trustworthy. He next will be seen in upcoming features Godzilla and Fifty Shades Of Grey. He is repped by Gersh.
Related: 2014 CBS Pilots
EXCLUSIVE: Raising Hope‘s Garret Dillahunt is set to star opposite Ron Perlman in Amazon’s drama pilot Hand Of God, written by Ben Watkins and directed by Marc Forster. It centers on powerful Judge Harris Pernell (Perlman), a hard-living, law-bending married man with a high-end call girl on the side who has a religious awakening and starts having visions and hearing voices through his ventilator-bound son that could be God speaking to him. Dillahunt will play KD, a young man who went looking for religion to cure his raging temper. He thinks he’s found God, but he is still a sociopath, and his temper is still raging. Pernell is a godsend for KD, as he gives him an intense singular focus, and an outlet for his violent tendencies. Dillahunt’s film credits include the role of Armsby in 12 Years A Slave, and he is available after Fox announced last week that Raising Hope‘s fourth-season finale April 4 will serve as the quirky family comedy’s series ender. His Hand Of God deal was brokered by D2 Management’s Didi Rea and UTA.
Related: 2014 Amazon Studios Pilot
Amazon has put in development Kismet, a half-hour comedy project from writer Marc Klein (Serendipity, Mirror, Mirror) and Radius Entertainment’s Carol Bodie. Based on an original idea from Klein, Kismet is a Sliding Doors-style parallel-reality love story, which follows one couple who meet, date and marry. But what if they hadn’t met? Kismet chronicles their lives both as a married couple who’ve met and as two single people who’ve never met. As their lives separate and dovetail, we discover that there is no single version of a person’s life that is better than any other. Klein, repped by UTA, Tobin Babst and Karl Austen, is writing the script and will executive produce with Bodie.
In this week’s podcast, Deadline’s executive editor David Lieberman and host David Bloom look at the Obama administration’s unusual intercession in the Aereo Supreme Court case on behalf of the networks and the notable absence of tech industry involvement in the case so far.
They also try to make sense of John Malone’s latest complicated stock shuffle that affects SiriusXM and Charter Communications; check in on the many Big Media highlights from this week’s Deutsche Bank investor conference; break out the checkbook for that Amazon Prime price hike; and wonder how DreamWorks Interactive can be on track for both a $310 million global box office haul for Mr. Peabody & Shermanand a write-down of $84 million for that same film.
Execs said in January that they’d probably hike the price of what had been a $79 a year service since it was introduced nine years ago. Even so, Amazon shares are up 2.4% in pre-market trading following today’s announcement about the service that offers members free, two-day delivery on many items bought on Amazon, as well as access to its streaming video service. Under the terms disclosed today, the price for new members and membership renewals for Amazon Prime will go to $99 while Amazon Student members pay $49. The company will keep its Prime Fresh fee at $299. CFO Tom Szkutak told analysts that Amazon was considering the price hike because “during this nine-year period shipping cost have gone up a lot, fuel cost have gone up a lot.” The famously tight-lipped company has disclosed little about the economics of its Prime membership. But Bernstein Research”s Carlos Kirjner estimates that the average member in the U.S. spends about $1,500 a year at the e-retailer vs about $550 for non-members. He figured that an increase of $20 a year or more would restore the economic model that Prime had when it was first launched, even if the higher price leads some to not sign up or renew.
Amazon is officially an original drama series player. A month after Amazon Studios uploaded five pilots — two dramas and three comedies — for users to watch and comment on, the company has quietly notified the auspices of four of them that they are being picked up to series. That includes Amazon’s first dramas: The After from Chris Carter, marking The X-Files creator’s return to series television, and Eric Overmyer and Michael Connelly’s Bosch, starring Titus Welliver. Newly picked up half-hour comedy series include Gael Garcia Bernal starrer Mozart In The Jungle, from Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, Alex Timbers and Paul Weitz, and Jill Soloway’s semi-autobiographical Transparent. Amazon’s fifth pilot, comedy The Rebels, from Ice Cube and Michael Strahan, is being put on hold. Five pilots yielding four series represents a much higher batting average than Amazon’s first pilot season, when it tested eight comedy pilots, picking up two — Alpha House and Betas — to series. Of them, Alpha House has been quietly renewed for a second season to begin film in July, while Betas will not be retuning. (UPDATE: Amazon says no final decision on Betas has been made yet.) Here are descriptions of Amazon’s newly greenlighted series, whose pickup was first reported by Variety:
Related: 2014 Amazon Studios Pilots
Amazon.com today announced a licensing deal with BBC Worldwide North America that will make Prime Instant Video the exclusive online-only subscription home for streaming Season One and future seasons of the dramatic thriller Orphan Black. The series returns to BBC America on Saturday, April 19, at 9 PM EST. Prime Instant Video is the exclusive online-only subscription home for PBS series Downton Abbey and Mr. Selfridge, FX drama The Americans, CBS summer series Under The Dome and later this summer, Extant, among other programs that include Veronica Mars, Justified, Falling Skies, Grimm, Workaholics, Suits, Covert Affairs, etc., as well as Amazon’s first original series Alpha House and Betas.
In this week’s audio podcast, Deadline International Editor Nancy Tartaglione and host David Bloom look at the possibility that frenemies John Malone and Rupert Murdoch will combine and snap up the UK’s Channel 5, even as a booming ITV opts out; and Amazon’s new combination platter of Prime services that are challenging Netflix more aggressively in Britain, including through a partnership with the BBC to revive the cancelled period drama Ripper Street. They also preview those other big awards this weekend, France’s Cesars, and take their weekly look at the international box office, as both Frozen and The Hobbit 2: The Desolation Of Smaug continue to rack up huge cumulative grosses.
Amazon has come to the rescue of British period drama Ripper Street. The online giant is today launching its Amazon Prime Instant Video service in the UK and with that has announced a commission for a 3rd season of the BBC crime series. It’s also acquired UK subscription streaming rights to the previous seasons. The Victorian era show, which stars Matthew Macfadyen, was cancelled by the BBC in December after a 2nd season ratings drop. The news elicited an outpouring of lament from fans and it was soon rumored that Amazon’s streaming service LoveFilm might pick up the slack. Amazon recently said it was folding LoveFilm into its Prime service in Britain with the new-look platform bowing today, along with the news that new episodes of Ripper Street will be made available exclusively to Amazon Prime Instant Video members before screening on BBC One a few months later.
Shorts International’s channel ShortsHD is making this year’s Oscar nominees in the categories of Live Action Short Film and Animated Short Film available on VOD and digital platforms beginning today. The lineup already has gotten a release in more than 400 theaters nationwide. It’s the ninth year the organization has distributed the program ahead of the Oscars ceremony. The shorts are now available on iTunes, Amazon, and via VOD through cable providers Comcast, Cox Communications, Time Warner Cable, Bright House Networks, Cablevision, Charter Communications, RCN, Midcontinent and Metrocast. As a refresher, here are this year’s nominees in the categories:
Nine digital media companies have joined forces to create the Global Online Video Association, the first-ever org designed to represent and promote the growing digital content industry. Multi-channel networks Big Frame, BroadbandTV, Collective Digital Studios, DECA, Discovery Digital Networks/Revision3, Fullscreen, Maker Studios, Magnet Media, and MiTu Networks are backing the nonprofit corporation which was announced today during the inaugural Digital Entertainment World conference in LA. Collective Digital Studio SVP Strategy and Sales Paul Kontonis will serve as executive director of GOVA. Top of mind for member digital companies is drawing more advertisers to the nontraditional space to make digital ad sales more profitable, given that GOVA member companies rep 10 billion monthly video views online. In its first year GOVA will focus on building awareness with and relationships between advertisers, consumers, and content partners like YouTube, Amazon and Microsoft. “Online video has exploded for consumers and advertisers, and is a terrific new opportunity for brands to reach new audiences,” said Jason Krebs, Head of Sales, Maker Studios. “GOVA will help us create awareness faster amongst consumers and accelerate adoption by marketers.”
In this week’s podcast, Deadline’s executive editor David Lieberman and host David Bloom catch up on the many highlights from earnings season announcements, beginning with those by possible dance partners Comcast and Time Warner Cable and what their news might mean for Comcast’s takeover bid. They also take the market temperature on Viacom and tech giants led by Google — which sold off its Motorola Mobility unit after owning it just two years — and Facebook, Apple, Yahoo and Amazon. They also look at exhibitors’ demands for shorter movie trailers and whether studios will play along.
EXCLUSIVE: This is shaping up to be one of the most ambitious projects yet for Amazon Studios. I hear that the production arm of the online retailer’s streaming service is finalizing deals for a pilot order to Hand Of God, to be directed by World War Z helmer Marc Forster in his TV directing debut. Ron Perlman is set to topline the edgy drama, written by former Burn Notice executive producer Ben Watkins. Hand Of God centers on the powerful Judge Harris Pernell (Perlman), a hard-living, law-bending married man with a high-end call girl on the side who has a religious awakening and starts having visions and hearing voices through his ventilator-bound son that could be God speaking to him. I hear filming is tentatively slated to begin in March. Forster, Perlman and Watkins executive produce with Jillian Kugler, who works with Forster, and Brian Wilkins of KLWGN. Forster will direct Hand Of God as a follow-up to World World Z, which grossed $540 million worldwide. Hellboy alum Perlman is coming off a memorable co-starring role on FX’s Sons Of Anarchy. Amazon’s second batch of completed pilots, including the company’s first dramas Bosch and Chris Carter’s The After, are expected to be released soon.
Related: ‘Barbarella’ …
Why should Sony and Verizon have all the fun? Amazon has talked with at least three “big media conglomerates” about the possibility of licensing channels for its own online pay TV service, The Wall Street Journal reports this afternoon, citing “people familiar with the matter.” The paper adds that the initiative “is in the early stages, and it isn’t clear whether it will move forward.” It also doesn’t have a business model yet. For the streaming plans to work, Amazon and others need programmers to agree to license their channels for rates that would enable a newcomer to be competitive. Some, including Disney, say that they would only go along with an initiative that offers the entire bundle of channels that cable and satellite companies sell. Seven companies account for 83% of primetime TV viewing by 18- to 49-year-olds, Morgan Stanley’s Benjamin Swinburne notes in a report today. They heavily depend on fees from cable, satellite, and telco video distributors.
This is becoming a theme at the International CES. Earlier today Netflix said that it will stream 4K content including the next season of House Of Cards to LG TV sets. Now Samsung is raising the stakes unveiling similar arrangements with Netflix, Comcast, Paramount, DirecTV and Amazon — part of its campaign to popularize the new technology with video that’s four times as sharp as conventional HD. The Samsung UHD [for Ultra Hi-Def] Video Pack will bundle Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness, World War Z, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, and Forrest Gump. “Users will also be able to download new UHD content as it becomes available,” the company says. In addition, Comcast will have an app for 4K Internet streams. The company says that it is “working with programmers, including NBCUniversal, to provide a library of 4k UHD choices for the Xfinity TV 4K app.” Comcast Cable SVP Matt Strauss says that later this year the company’s X1 set top boxes “will deliver 4K UHD content to all 4K capable televisions.” Amazon says that it’s working with several consumer electronics companies as well as Warner Bros., Lionsgate, 20th Century Fox, and Discovery. Last month Amazon Studios said that it will shoot all of its original series in 4K.