Amazon Is Banning Apple TV and Chromecast. And That’s Gross
Amazon has quietly informed its marketplace sellers that as of October 29, it will no longer sell the Google Chromecast or Apple TV. In doing so, it will absent the second and fourth best-selling streaming boxes from its digital shelves.
The move, first reported by Bloomberg Businessweek and confirmed to WIRED, comes in advance of the release of the next-generation versions of those products. The new Chromecast is already available for order from the Google Store, while the new Apple TV ships later this month.
Perhaps as surprising as the decision itself was Amazon’s rationale. Rather than the obvious motivation of not wanting to enable the success of two powerful competitors to its streaming Fire TV and Fire TV Stick, an Amazon spokesperson provided the following statement:
“Over the last three years, Prime Video has become an important part of Prime. It’s important that the streaming media players we sell interact well with Prime Video in order to avoid customer confusion.”
That logic, which could charitably be described as “unlikely,” and less so as “brazen misdirection,” doesn’t add up, according to streaming media analyst Dan Rayburn.
“If you’re trying to remove confusion about Prime streaming, why didn’t you remove that confusion six months ago or a year ago?” asks Rayburn. “If you’re going to do that, why aren’t you removing TVs from your marketplace that don’t support Prime streaming? Why aren’t you removing tablets from your marketplace that don’t support Prime streaming? There’s a lot of other things they could be removing.”
They’re not, though. Instead, they’re removing a dongle and a set-top box that, despite being well over two years old, sell nearly as well as Amazon’s brand new, correlative products on Amazon’s own site. And they’re doing so right after the latest versions of that dongle and set-top box have been released.
“It’s interesting that they do it right after a brand new Apple TV is announced. Right after new Chromecasts are announced. Right after they announce their own, upgraded Fire TVs and sticks,” says Rayburn. “I find that a little suspicious.”
Amazon’s not the only company to disallow competitive products in its stores. In fact, it’s not even the first company in this imbroglio to do so; nearly a year ago, on the heels of purchasing Beats, Apple removed Bose headphone and stereo products from its shelves.
It’s also notable that Amazon’s not targeting an entire product category here; Roku remains unaffected, as do Xbox and PlayStation, all of which carry Instant Video. It speaks to the power Amazon wields, however, that if a smaller player like Roku had been included in the reaping, it may well have been a fatal blow. As is, it’s more of a healthy swat.
“It would be a much, much bigger deal if it were impacting someone like Roku. But it’s not as if people can’t pick up an Apple TV at a physical store,” says Rayburn. “With Chromecast, it’ll certainly impact things, but if you really want to get it you can get it at a lot of places.”
Most people don’t go a lot of places, though. Most people go to Amazon. The company reported sales of $23.18 billion in the second quarter of this year alone, which very roughly works out to about $250 million a day. It ranked ninth among the National Retail Federation’s top 100 retailers; the only other Internet-only company on the list was Dell, which squeaked in at 100th.
All of which is to say that Amazon is the most powerful company in online retail, and has apparently decided to leverage that position of strength to elevate a successful hardware line at a time when e-books and tablets, its previous corners of strength, are on the decline. Thank goodness, one supposes, that the Fire Phone was a flop.
But what about the supposed center of all of this, namely the availability of Prime Video? Why isn’t it on Apple TV and Chromecast in the first place?
The short answer: That’s between Amazon, Apple, and Google. What’s certain is that there’s no technical limitation involved; adding Prime Video to either of those services would simply be a matter of code.
Amazon may not want to pay the 30 percent tithe that Apple charges for wares sold on its mobile platforms. Apple, meanwhile, may not be welcoming of a direct iTunes competitor, though complicating the matter is Instant Video’s presence on the iPad, and Netflix’s inclusion on Apple TV.
Google Chromecast, though, has an open SDK that allows any developer—including Amazon—to provide support if it so chooses. While Amazon’s statement seemingly puts the onus on Google, the only thing stopping Prime Video from making its way to Chomecast appears to be Amazon itself.
“You never know in these instances how much the companies are forcing the blame on somebody else, where it might be an internal decision,” says Rayburn. “It might make more sense if you’re talking about the old Apple TV box, and Amazon just doesn’t want to support that outdated hardware. The fact that a new Apple TV is coming out, just think of how much that device competes with Amazon.”
Making the point all the more absurd and/or moot, depending on your perspective? The Apple TV can play Prime Video just fine, as long as you have a MacBook with which to mirror it. That seems like an easier way to clear up any confusion than nuking the product altogether.
Meanwhile, Amazon exposes itself to another kind of confusion: Whether it’s really the company its customers trust it to be. “For all that Amazon is dressing this up as providing the best customer experience, it certainly looks like an anti-competitive move, and goes against Amazon’s reputation as the ‘everything store,’” says Jackdaw Research CEO Jan Dawson.
That’s also what makes Amazon’s decision substantively different from Apple shunning Bose. Both companies are acting out of self-interest, but the degree to which that disjoints its customers’ expectations couldn’t be more different. You go to the Apple Store looking for Apple products; you go to Amazon looking for whatever you want. By the end of October, at least in this instance, you won’t be able to find it.
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