Amazon Fire TV’s Matt Hill on building an entertainment hub users want

Amazon Fire TV is working to build a home entertainment hub that caters to users needs both for aggregation and discovery, but also beyond TV with some utility baked in.

Starting about two years ago Amazon began getting into its in-house-built smart TVs, which serve not only content but also widgets through its Ambient Experience (available on certain devices that uses built-in presence sensors to detect when a person enters the room and displays helpful info) with features like at-a-glance calendar schedules and reminders, or sticky notes, as well as controlling smart devices like thermostats and doorbells, for example.  

In March Amazon disclosed it’s sold over 200 million Fire TV devices globally across its offering of streaming media players and smart TVs, alongside its international launch of Amazon-built TVs in the UK, Germany and Mexico for the first time.

Speaking to Fierce Video at the NAB show in Las Vegas, Matt Hill, head of Fire TV device monetization, maintained that Amazon didn’t get into the smart TV market to steal share, but rather was responding to signals from customers about pain points in a space where the company sees itself as “best positioned to listen to that feedback and invent” with a desire to find ways to address individual customer problems. And once customers are aggregated, themes start to emerge, he said.

“That’s where we’ve taken those and we’re inventing ahead of those customer problems, and we can best do that in something that we control. So that’s really why we got into [smart TVs],” he said. One of the things people crave is simplicity, according to Hill.

And Amazon doesn’t plan to keep features all to itself.

“Then we take those features and they’re going to be made available to our partners,” Hill added, as Amazon licenses its software and tech to third parties.

It’s somewhat akin to, as he described, the Alexa model. Meaning, where Alexa-created features that become part of its skill kit are then available to others – such as LG integrating Alexa into smart kitchen appliances.

“It’s the same kind of thing for Fire TV, where we think we have the best signals to be able to innovate, and we’ll get into putting those and innovating on our TVs, but then the goal is to get it into all of our partnerships,” he told Fierce.

When it comes to features on Fire TV, Hill reiterated it’s all about what customers are indicating, and part of that is a desire for more out of their investments in the living room screen.  He gave the example of a camera-enabled Ring device being able to show users who’s at the door without having to open an app on the phone that might only be tied to one user account – meaning that it could instead work for the entire household.

“We hear those things from customers and that’s where we start to invest in actually trying to make the TV smart versus just kind of a thing that’s connected to the internet,” he noted.

With people streaming say four hours a day, Hill said connected TVs should have some utility, with the ability to be part of daily life and help make things simpler for users.  And on the path to Fire TV’s goal of creating the ultimate home entertainment hub, he thinks there’s also a lot of different content aspects it can do with categories to help solve streaming struggles, such as sports and news.

Sports is one category in the OTT space that Hill called out as not yet working for consumers – with sports rights fragmented across different platforms (think Apple’s MLS Season Pass, NFL’s Sunday Ticket on YouTube TV, not to mention Amazon Prime Video’s own coverage of Thursday Night Football and certain Yankee games, among several other streamers with select sports rights).

“It’s still quite confusing,” and an area where Fire TV can innovate, Hill said. He pointed to voice technologies as helping on that front – such as searching by voice for content or games, score updates and so on. 

Ultimately however, Fire TV wants to aggregate and bring together all categories – sports, news, short form, music videos, dramas, comedies, free content, subscription content, and what have you – to help easily serve customers content in a streaming world where content discovery is still a well-known pain point. (A recent survey from LG Ads found 40% of consumers are confused about where to find content they know they want to watch, and consumers on average spend roughly six minutes between turning on the TV and beginning video playback).

“You can bring all of these services together in one place and make it easy for the customers to find that by taking it out of the app” so at the end of the day they don’t need to know whether a piece of content is in within Amazon’s Freevee FAST, Prime Video or Apple, Hill said.

In addition, he pointed out that a lot of FAST content is also available in other apps. So to be able to present customers the option of where they would like to view it, either through a service with a paid monthly fee like Netflix, or for free through an ad-supported service like Tubi, where the value exchange is time for sitting through ads.  

“You want to stream and you want to subscribe, if you want to buy it, if you want to rent it, you should have it available to you in one place and that's what we think about,” Hill said separately Monday during a NAB Streaming Summit session at the Las Vegas Convention center

Advertising one opportunity for monetization

While Hill told Fierce advertising is not a driving force for getting into the TV device business, he did acknowledge advertising is one of the key avenues for monetization. 

As he described, there are a lot of brands out there that used to rely on traditional pay TV to reach the audiences they want that are now looking for new avenues. At the same time there are content providers who are looking to get content in front of customers, and customers who in turn are struggling to find content.

“Marrying them in a targeted way or a personalized way actually creates an opportunity for you to monetize,” Hill said. “But you can really kind of bring those two together, where you’re helping customers find the content they love, and helping the brands and the content providers match that audience.”

Free ad-supported streaming is also becoming a bigger factor for Fire TV. Hill noted it’s a growing category for Fire TV, saying “it’s doubled its size in one year” and that “it’s our fastest growing category.”

During the aforementioned NAB Streaming Summit session, Hill noted that as more consumers continue to lean into the FAST category Fire TV is beginning to make it more visible within the UI. Amazon is also thinking about building features that work for that ad-supported space and “have ads that are relevant for that consumer” with more personalization baked in.