Amazon Fire TV alights in UK, Germany, putting heat on streaming rivals

The e-commerce giant takes its streaming-media box beyond the US for €99 in Germany and £79 in the UK, expanding competition with companies like Roku, Apple, and Google.

Amazon's Vice President Peter Larsen announces that the Fire TV streaming-media device is on sale in Germany and the UK.
Amazon Vice President Peter Larsen announces that the Fire TV streaming-media device is on sale in Germany and the UK. Stephen Shankland/CNET

BERLIN -- Amazon brought its Fire TV video-streaming system to the UK and Germany, expanding its global competition with Apple and Google.

The Fire TV, previously available only in the US, is a compact set-top box that shows movies and TV episodes purchased individually with Amazon Instant Video or via a subscription to Prime Instant Video. It'll also stream music through Spotify and other services and play games on Amazon Game Studios.

"The content is the cornerstone of Fire TV," said Peter Larsen, Amazon's vice president of worldwide retail systems and retail services, during a press conference here at the IFA electronics show. "We want devices to disappear completely so the content can take center stage."

It won't take long for customers to spend more on that content than on the device itself: Amazon's Fire TV costs €99 in Germany and £79 in the UK. It's available for preorder now and will ship in September in Germany and October in the UK.

Those who already are Amazon Prime members get a discount, €49 in Germany and £49 in the UK, for five days, Amazon said.

There are plenty of streaming-media devices already in the market, but Amazon's biggest competitors arguably are Google and Apple. That's because they, like Amazon, want to be at the center of an ecosystem of products and services ranging well beyond just video content. Google is also fighting for two other Amazon strongholds, cloud-computing services and product delivery.

Amazon's move also means traditional TV distribution channels are under more pressure. The better the content available on demand over the Internet, the less reason there is for cable TV or other content subscriptions. Key to the transition is how well Internet-era distributors do in licensing shows, and Larsen was keen to point out that Amazon has expanded its deal with NBC Universal so Europeans will be able to see movies such as "Despicable Me" and "Pitch Perfect."

People can use the Fire TV's remote control to select video, start and pause it, and use the voice-based search. In the US, 92 percent of searches are done by voice, and Amazon expects similar trends here. Of course, it can handle German-language searches.

"Our customer research shows that German customers are likely to search in German," quipped Ralf Kleber, vice president of Amazon Germany.

The device also will show streaming video from a number of services including Netflix, YouTube, Sky News, and Red Bull TV.

Amazon's Vice President Peter Larsen shows content partners for its Fire TV streaming-media device during the IFA electronics show.
Amazon's Vice President Peter Larsen shows content partners for its Fire TV streaming-media device during the IFA electronics show. Stephen Shankland/CNET

Fire TV integrates with Amazon Fire tablets and phones for a feature called X-ray. With it, people can see the names of actors as their characters appear. The mobile devices also can be used to control games played on the Fire TV.

The games are based on Web standards or Google's Android software. Developers have to release special versions for Amazon Fire TV, but it's easy, Larsen said: "If you have a game, it is a piece of cake to get it ported over to Amazon TV."

 

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