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Cable Technology Feature Article

May 23, 2014

Trouble Brewing? Amazon Offers Fire TV Free for 30 Days

By Tara Seals, TMCnet Contributor

Amazon is apparently looking to boost demand for its just-launched over-the-top (OTT) set-top box, dubbed the Fire TV. The “e-tailer” is sending out targeted “try before you buy” offers to select members.

The company is offering certain account holders the opportunity to try out the box for 30 days, after which they can return it for free if they don’t want to keep it. It’s a classic gambit from “as seen on TV” wares and infomercials, but one that’s rarely seen in the tech world.

The approach is roughly analogous to a policy that Amazon has had in place for time immemorial—the 30-day money-back guarantee. The difference here is that users don’t have to pay up front. But, there of course has to be a credit card on file tat Amazon will bill if the device isn’t returned.

Almost certainly it’s banking that some won’t have their act together enough to mail it back within the window—this is an approach that record clubs, insurance and other industries have employed for years. But it’s also a legitimate “teaser” approach.

Image via CNN Money

It does make one wonder why Amazon is taking such a tack however—is demand not what it should be?

At $99, the tiny box directly takes on both Apple (News - Alert) TV and the Roku 3 (neither of which have ever offered a try-before-you-buy option, by the way), with a set of fairly standard over-the-top content options. But it also packs in a series of differentiators that Amazon is hoping will be enough to make the gambit a success against the more entrenched competition. It could be that those differentiators aren’t resonating yet.

As table stakes, it offers a video on demand (VOD) store, which offers access to the Amazon Prime Instant streaming service as well as Netflix, Hulu (News - Alert) Plus, WatchESPN, YouTube and Showtime. And, it has the FreeTime Unlimited subscription service—Amazon’s all-you-can-eat content subscription designed for kids ages 3 to 8. And, it has an on-demand library has 200,000 movies and TV episodes from Amazon Instant Video.

But, it is also releasing new developer tools for third-parties to create PC, console or Android (News - Alert) mobile apps and games for Fire TV—a decision that could create a large ecosystem of additional value for users. Fire TV is based on Android, so the platform will be somewhat familiar to existing Google developers (many of whom, it should be noted, are also likely writing for the Google Chromecast dongle).

And, it already offers access to a variety of music and game options. For music, owners can listen to music with Amazon MP3, Pandora (News - Alert), iHeartRadio, TuneIn and others. And the gaming stable includes the wildly popular “Minecraft,” “Monsters University,” “The Game of Life,” “The Walking Dead,” “NBA2K14,” “Asphalt 8,” “Riptide GP2,” “Despicable Me: Minion Rush” and others—the average price of paid games is $1.85. Users can play using the Fire TV remote, the Fire TV app for smartphones and tablets, or the optional Fire game controller.

It also has full voice search capabilities that it says blows Roku 3 away, and out-specs the competition, with a quad-core processor and what the company said is more than three times the processing power, a dedicated GPU and four times the memory of Apple TV or Roku.

“Tiny box, huge specs, tons of content, incredible price—people are going to love Fire TV,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com (News - Alert) founder and CEO said at launch. “Voice search that actually works means no more typing on an alphabet grid. Our exclusive new ASAP feature predicts the shows you’ll want to watch and gets them ready to stream instantly. And our open approach gives you not just Amazon Instant Video and Prime Instant Video, but also Netflix, Hulu Plus, and more. On Fire TV you can watch Alpha House and House of Cards.”

Will it be enough? Time will tell how many will try it… and then buy it.

Edited by Alisen Downey

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