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Amazon did a lot of funky stuff this year and its paying off

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Holy hell, it’s been a year for Amazon. Jeff Bezos’ former-online-bookstore dumped $13.7 billion to buy a bunch of grocery stores, that speaker you talk to in your living room that Amazon makes is really popular and a bunch of server farms Amazon runs generate more than $10 billion in revenue annually.

The confluence of all these things has led to an incredible rise in its stock on the year — one that might be even more impressive than Apple’s slow march toward hitting a $1 trillion market cap (assuming the iPhone X story plays out the way they hope). Amazon is nowhere near as big as Google or Apple, but at the same time, its core business is an online retail operation that operates with razor-thin margins. For the most part, Bezos has gotten the benefit of the doubt from Wall Street, and its strategy of gleefully investing in new operations appears to be playing out as hoped.

Let’s get to the chart:

 

And with all this, its founder and CEO Jeff Bezos is making a run at becoming the richest human in the Local Group. Amazon is investing in a lot of wild operations, like buying Whole Foods, and all of these big moves are starting to coalesce into something that actually makes a little bit of sense as the company looks to become the backbone of the way people run a lot of their daily lives through the internet. Whether that’s buying stuff online, buying groceries, watching movies, listening to music or even using services that are running on Amazon’s invisible infrastructure, the real Amazon is becoming an absolute force in the everyday life of nearly every internet consumer.

So, because Amazon did all the stuff this year, we’re just gonna run through each one bit by bit, starting off with probably its most important one.

Amazon’s server business is booming

Were it not for AWS, Amazon probably would not have posted a profit in the string of quarters that it did. We’ve noted this before, but here’s the money chart again:

 

While Amazon is increasingly facing a lot of competition from Microsoft’s Azure, as well as Google Cloud, it was one of the original infrastructure operations that gave birth to modern internet services, helping startups get off the ground with servers that they didn’t have to buy themselves. It was also one of Amazon’s most ambitious bets, and one early example of how Amazon was willing to bulldoze its way into new markets orthogonal to its core business model.

The bet paid off, with AWS now on track to generate more than $10 billion annually. More importantly, that $10 billion annually comes with a pretty healthy margin — though, over time, that margin may slip down. For the time being, though, it’s an impressive business compared to the razor-thin profits that Amazon might generate from its retail operations and a good data point as its media services like video or music start to play out.

And, as usual, recurring revenue is a story that Wall Street loves. Amazon is a company that people will often tell you not to bet against, and its stock is up more than 50 percent on the year thanks to an array of businesses that all appear to be showing growth and the company’s recent-ish ability to turn a profit. Amazon can thank AWS a lot for that.

 

Amazon’s play for the vocal internet

Amazon also said the Echo, its voice-enabled speaker, was the best-selling product on Amazon for the holiday season, with millions of devices sold. This is a pretty big deal for Amazon, as it may have stepped into one of the single-best new interfaces for the internet as a whole — as well as reducing the friction further for buying stuff on Amazon. And for a service that is essentially the hub of online commerce in the U.S., having an Amazon-sold item is also a pretty good look for the company.

Even if the devices are relatively cheap, locking consumers into the Amazon ecosystem, in the end, is likely much more valuable than selling a bunch of internet-connected speakers. Amazon Prime gives Amazon an opportunity to turn its shoppers from once-in-a-bit purchasers to a reliable stream of recurring incremental revenue. Amazon doesn’t do much in terms of disclosing how Prime performs, but at the same time, a reliable recurring revenue model is something that Wall Street loves — and something that’ll keep them happy and off Bezos’ back.

We’d love to show you a chart here, but the best we’re gonna get is some kind of vague large number from Amazon. So for now, be skeptical, but assume that it’s big and has a lot of potential ramifications for the future of the internet (as much of Amazon’s operations do) — especially as companies like Google and Apple nip at its heels.

Amazon buys a bunch of grocery stores

Amazon made one of the biggest and splashiest acquisitions of the year, second only to Broadcom’s move to acquire Qualcomm and consolidate the fabless semiconductor market into a single unit (which is an equally very large deal). It acquired Whole Foods, a trendy grocery store chain that has a strong brand, for $13.7 billion — and it went through! This was both wildly, in a very Amazon way, expected and unexpected (and was definitely not a good thing for Blue Apron, which was prepping to go public at the time).

Whole Foods gives Amazon a set of local waypoints for groceries, but also storefronts to get its products in front of consumers. It can apply its wealth of data to reorient the prices of products in such a way to get consumers in the door for their staples while getting them interested in other products. And, maybe, more importantly, it can stick its own products in those stores, like the Echo.

While this gives Amazon a big business right away, it also offers Amazon yet another opportunity to lock consumers into the Jeff Bezos Sphere of Influence. We don’t know the full ramifications here just yet, but it’s another example of how Amazon was ready to just crash its way into a new market that sort of makes sense in the Amazon grand scheme of things.

Amazon, in the end, is setting itself up for a future where it serves as the backbone of how consumers interface with products they use in their everyday life that are, in some way, connected to the internet. These moves may seem drastic and have a very long runway to play out, but if you ask a lot of people in tech which stock they would keep from the FAANG group (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google), you’re probably going to get Amazon as an answer. And then they’ll reference that Tweet wherever that says Amazon grew x thousand percent since it went public (because, in hindsight, I guess we totally should have seen this coming, and the future played out exactly as it was supposed to). So as we head into 2018, we’ll see if Amazon actually fulfills that destiny.

Also, Amazon should buy a coffee shop

Seriously, Jeff, buy a coffee startup. Maybe don’t spend as much as Nestlé did on Blue Bottle. Or do. Whichever. There can only be good things that come of this.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2017/12/29/amazon-did-a-lot-of-funky-stuff-this-year-and-its-paying-off/

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AT&T launches a low-cost live TV streaming service, WatchTV

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AT&T this morning announced the launch of a second TV streaming service, called WatchTV, days after its merger with Time Warner. The lower-cost alternative to AT&T’s DirecTV Now will offer anyone the ability to join WatchTV for only $15 per month, but the service will also be bundled into AT&T wireless plans. This $15 per month price point undercuts newcomer Philo, which in November had introduced the cheapest over-the-top TV service at just $16 per month.

The service will arrive for everyone next week, including both wireless subscribers and the general public.

With WatchTV, customers gain access to over 30 live TV channels from top cable networks including A&E, AMC, Animal Planet, CNN, Discovery, Food Network, Hallmark, HGTV, History, IFC, Lifetime, Sundance TV, TBS, TLC, TNT, VICELAND, and several others. (Full list below).

Shortly after launch, it will add BET, Comedy Central, MTV2, Nicktoons, Teen Nick, and VH1.

There are also over 15,000 TV shows and movies on demand, along with premium channels and music streaming options as add-ons.

While the new WatchTV service is open to anyone, AT&T is also bundling it into two new unlimited plans for no additional cost.

These plans are the AT&T Unlimited & More Premium plan and the AT&T Unlimited & More plan.

The Premium plan customers will have all the same features of the existing AT&T Unlimited Plus Enhanced Plan, including 15 GB of high-speed tethering, high-quality video and a $15 monthly credit towards DirecTV, U-verse TV, or, AT&T’s other streaming service, DirecTV Now. They can also choose to add one other option, like HBO…..”

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2018/06/21/att-launches-a-low-cost-live-tv-streaming-service-watchtv/

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AMCs MoviePass competitor arrives June 26

Charmaine Blake

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It was just a matter of time before AMC went head to head withMoviePass. After all, the two companies have been at odds for some time. Back in January, MoviePass dropped out of 10 of the theater chain’s highest traffic theaters in what was seen as a negotiating tactic. But AMC had no interest in playing ball.

The company had already publicly stated that it had “no intention[…]of sharing any […] admissions revenue,” one of many signs that it was working on its own version of the subscription service. That response arrives June 26, in the form of AMC Stubs A-List, an add-on to the company’s loyalty program.

Signs ups for the service start next week, at $20 a month. And at first glance the whole thing actually sounds pretty good, so long as you’re okay sticking with the 660 or so theaters AMC currently operates in the U.S.

Per the press release:

Through AMC Stubs A-List, members can enjoy any available showtime, any AMC location, any format — including IMAX at AMC, Dolby Cinema at AMC, RealD 3D, Prime at AMC and BigD. AMC Stubs A-List can be used at the spur of the moment or also can make planning ahead days or weeks in advance possible, as securing tickets is made easy via reservations capabilities on the AMCTheatres.com web site, or on the AMC Theatres smartphone app.

The membership includes up to three movies a week at any of the chain’s US locations, with no rollovers. Those three movies can be viewed on the same day, assuming you have a “two-hour buffer” between each and nowhere else to be. The same movie can also be viewed multiple times. Tickets can be purchased online for up to three movies at a time.

There are some non-movie ticket perks, as well, including popcorn upgrades, free refills and a rewards program.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2018/06/20/amcs-moviepass-competitor-arrives-june-26/

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5 cool video streaming devices to check out

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Image: Vicky Leta/Mashable

When you start researching video streaming devices, the first ones you’ll find will likely be Apple TV, Google Chromecast and Amazon Fire TV. Between those three there’s a decent price range, so your search can just stop there, right?

Wrong. While the most popular video streaming devices out there will likely be a good fit for many users, there are other options you should look at. 

Perhaps you’re looking for more versatility? Maybe you’re a power user that wants something extremely tweakable? Are you looking for a cheap PlayStation alternative? Or you’re just looking for the cheapest possible option out there that also does 4K?

We’ve rounded up some of the lesser-known video streaming devices out there to ease your search. 

Cheap with 4K: Xiaomi Mi Box ($69)

Image: Xiaomi

China’s Xiaomi has a reputation for delivering solid products with top-notch specs for an impossibly low price. The company has done it with nearly every gadget you can think of — from smartphones to smart TVs to scooters, and with the Xiaomi Mi Box, it entered the video streaming space as well. 

And yes, for the features it offers — Android TV 6.0, 4K streaming, HDR video support, DTS/Dolby Digital Plus support and a Bluetooth voice remote — the Mi Box is pretty darn cheap at $69. Add to that the elegant, simple, Apple-like design, and you get a pretty sweet deal. 

Since the device is Android TV-based, you get a ton of apps, including Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, Vevo, Vudu Plex, and Google Play Movies & TV. Google Cast is built in, so you’ll be able to send content to your TV from phones, laptops, tablets and more. 

The specs are decent: quad-core Cortex-A53 CPU, MALI 450 GPU 2GB of RAM, 8GB of flash storage (expandable via a USB port). And this is where you might find chinks in Mi Box’s armor: While these specs are decent, especially for the price, some users might want more powerful innards to power 4K playback. 

Great for gamers: Nvidia Shield ($179)

Image: Nvidia

Starting at $179, the Nvidia Shield is one of the most expensive video streaming devices, but hear us out. This device is an absolute powerhouse, with an Nvidia Tegra X1 processor, 3GB of RAM and 16GB of storage, which should be enough for smooth 4K playback. It also supports HDR playback, Dolby Atmos/DTS-X audio, and comes with a remote, Gigabit Ethernet, two USB 3.0 jacks, and an HDMI 2.0 jack. It runs Android TV, meaning you get the Google software experience and all the nice apps that go with it. 

But besides being a great media-streaming machine, the Shield’s greatest strength is that it’s also a game console. Add $20 to the base price and you get a game controller (for $299 you also get 500GB of storage instead of 16GB). So what can you do with all that? Play games, of course! For $7.99 per month, you can subscribe to GeForce Now, which lets you play Android titles such as Outlast 2, Obduction, and The Surge as you would with a GTX 1080 GPU, and stream them to your big screen. 

Obviously, you do not need this device if you only want a media streaming device, and that’s perfectly fine. But if price is no issue, and you’re not a big fan of Apple TV, the Nvidia Shield is pretty powerful, and one of the most versatile media streaming devices you’ll find. 

Dirt cheap: Roku Express ($29.99)

Image: Roku

Roku sells quite a few video streaming devices, so you’ll be forgiven if you’ve overlooked the Roku Express. Its specs are nothing special: You get 720p or 1080p resolution, a single HDMI jack, a remote… and that’s about it. 

But where Roku Express wins is the price. At just $29.99, it’s the cheapest option out there (outside of no-name devices from China), and for the price, you also get a remote and an HDMI cable, so you’re ready to go pretty much as soon as you bring it home. It’s the perfect option for someone that’s just not sure whether she needs a media streaming device in their life, or as a secondary device for your bedroom. 

Supported apps include the usual suspects: Netflix, Amazon, Spotify, and Google Play Movies & TV, among others.

If you want all the latest bells and whistles, such as 4K resolution and HDR support, you can also check Roku’s most powerful video streaming device, the Roku Ultra. You’ll have to dish out three times the money, as it costs $99, but it’s still a pretty fair price for what you get.  

Power user’s dream: Minix U9-H ($159.90)

Image: Minix

Unlike the other devices in this list, Minix doesn’t have a big brand behind it, but it does have a pretty big following. This is because its video streaming devices are actually much more than that — they’re pretty powerful little computers with impressive specs and a plethora of connectors.

The company’s U9-H came out in 2017, but it’s still one of the best options for media streaming in Minix’s range. It’s got an octa-core, 64-bit, AmLogic S912 processor, a Mali-820 MP3 GPU, 2GB of RAM, and 16GB of storage. It’s also got a serious array of output connectors: HDMI 2.0, 3.5mm audio, optical audio, Gigabit Ethernet, and three USB 2.0 ports. Add to that a microSD card reader and you’ll see that adding some serious storage to this baby is no issue. 

Its predecessor, Minix U1, had a pretty big software shortcoming, as it ran on now very dated Android 5 Lollipop. Minix U9-H remedied this by switching to the next version, Android 6 Marshmallow, which makes it a lot more future-proof. 

If you opt for a Minix, know that setting things up isn’t as easy on most other streaming devices — for example, installing something as common as Netflix can be a chore. But if you know your way around Android, you should be fine.

The Minix Neo U9-H can be had on Amazon for $159.90.

Super-versatile: Evanpo T95Z Plus ($104.99)

Image: evanpo

Evanpo’s hexagonal box, the awkwardly named Evanpo T95Z Plus, probably offers the best bang for the buck in terms of sheer specs. It comes in several variants, and the most powerful one sports an octa-core processor (same one as the Minix U9-H), 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, Android 7.1, a remote, and a wireless keyboard — and you get all that for $104.99. 

The T95Z Plus can play 4K videos at 60fps, which should result in a very smooth picture. It also has both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth support, meaning you can connect all sorts of peripherals to it. And did we mention the wireless, full-sized keyboard? No more fidgeting five seconds per letter on a numerical keyboard. 

On the connectivity side, you get two USB 2.0 ports, a HDMI port, optical port and a Gigabit Ethernet port. 

The biggest downsides of Evanpo are that it’s a lesser-known brand and that sometimes, getting everything to work as you want might be a more complex than, say, plugging an Amazon stick into your TV. But you’ll be rewarded with a myriad options that very few devices on the market offer. 

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