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Amazon Decides Against Offering ‘Skinny Bundle’ Video Service

November 16, 2017 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Amazon.com Inc has decided to cancel plans to launch an online streaming service bundling popular U.S. broadcast and cable networks because it believes it cannot make enough money on such a service, people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

The world’s largest online retailer has also been unable to convince key broadcast and basic cable networks to break with decades-old business models and join its a la carte Amazon Channels service, the sources said and has backed away from talks with them.

 The reversals come a month after the abrupt departure of Roy Price from his job as head of Amazon Studios, the company’s high-profile television production division, following an allegation of sexual harassment, which he has contested.

They show how difficult it is for Amazon to change entrenched habits in the U.S. entertainment business in the same way that it has done in retail, cloud computing and other areas.

An Amazon spokeswoman declined to comment.

Video has become an important tool for Amazon in generating subscriptions for its U.S. $99-a-year Prime membership service. It is on track to spend some $4.5 billion or more on video programming this year, analysts estimate.

On Monday it made waves in the entertainment world with the purchase of global television rights to “The Lord of the Rings,” planning a multi-season series to draw more viewers to Prime.

Such an offering, known in the industry as a “skinny bundle,” is a way of capturing younger viewers who are dropping traditional, expensive cable or satellite TV packages in favor of channels watchable on smartphones and tablets.

But in recent weeks, Amazon decided not to move ahead with a service on the grounds that it would yield too low a profit margin and did not necessarily indicate the direction the TV business will eventually go, the sources told Reuters.

Amazon could still decide to change course and introduce a skinny bundle, but the talks are over, the sources said.

Roku Signs Licensing Deal For Inclusion On Philips TVs

November 15, 2017 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Roku Inc’s shares skyrocketed by 43 percent to a record high earlier this week after the streaming device maker said it signed a licensing deal that would put its technology on Philips-branded televisions in the United States this year.

The company said the licensing partnership with Japan’s Funai Electric Co Ltd, which manufactures Philips N.V. televisions for North American, would place its operating system on Philips’ smart TVs.

 Roku also said that it would give a $20 discount on its $69.99-priced streaming stick for the Black Friday weekend, and separately said its customer would get a free one-month trial of AT&T Inc’s streaming service DirecTV Now.

The barrage of news was well received by investors, who sent Roku’s shares jumping 28.5 percent to close at $42.71 on Monday. The stock hit a high of $47.49 earlier in the session.

“The price move was solely due to long shareholders bidding up ROKU’s stock price” and not due to investors covering their short positions in the stock, financial analytics firm S3 Partners said in a note.

S3 Partners said while the short interest in Roku has risen since its initial public offering (IPO) in late September, it has stayed relatively flat in November and isn’t likely to go up further due to the limited number of shares available to borrow.

Investors who sell securities short first borrow shares and then sell them, expecting the price to fall so they can then buy the shares back at the lower price, return them to the lender and pocket the difference.

Roku, one of the first to make a device to stream content such as from Netflix Inc onto TVs, is now combating deeper-pocketed entrants such as Apple Inc, Alphabet Inc’s Google and Amazon.com Inc among others.

Still, up to Monday’s close, Roku’s stock has now more than tripled from its IPO price of $14 on Sept. 27. The stock debuted at $15.78 on the Nasdaq on Sept. 28.

 Los Gatos, California-based Roku’s success in the stock market is in stark contrast to the fortunes of other technology companies to make their market debuts this year.

Snap Inc’s shares have fallen 26 percent since its February IPO, while Blue Apron Holdings Inc has lost about 70 percent since its IPO in June.

Amazon Targets Teen Shoppers With New Program

October 13, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

The world’s largest online store announced it has created a new feature for families, allowing moms and dads to give their teens more autonomy to purchase goods on Amazon while still under parental supervision.

With the new US-only feature, which is targeted for kids ages 13 to 17, a parent can add up to four teens to their Amazon Household account for free and set a payment method that a teen can’t see, as well as shipping addresses.

Teens can then shop on the Amazon mobile app on their own. Parents will get an email or text for purchases their teens make, and can approve or decline each order. When making purchases, teens can even add a note to their parents, such as “I need this book for school.”

“With this program, teenagers will have that independence and parents will have the control that they need,” Michael Carr, Amazon’s vice president of Amazon Households, said in an interview.

Giving these extra benefits to teenagers should help Amazon hook its next generation of customers to its e-commerce site and other services. As part of this effort, the company in August introduced cheaper student pricing for its Prime Music Unlimited service and has been building out college pickup locations across the country.

The new service should also make life a little easier for parents — a key demographic for Amazon — allowing them to create separate Amazon log-ins for their kids that they can monitor.

While Amazon’s conditions of use already let children under 18 to use its services while under parental supervision, the company didn’t make doing so all that convenient. Parents previously might have had to share their log-in credentials, along with their credit card numbers, with their teen, or set up separate accounts for their children that they’d likely have to check regularly.

The new teen program is available under Amazon Household, a service that lets families share their Prime membership benefits and manage parental controls for their kids’ Amazon devices. Amazon won’t require age verifications to sign up for the new program and the company didn’t create a limited set of items specifically for teens, other than legal restrictions on certain products, such as beer.

Parents can choose not to approve each item their teens buy and instead set spending limits per order. Amazon, though, didn’t yet create spending limits on a per week or monthly basis.

Any Amazon customers, including non-Prime shoppers, can use the new program. For now, parents with Prime membership can share Prime two-day shipping, Prime Video and Twitch Prime with their teens’ accounts. Other services, such as Prime Now and AmazonFresh, aren’t yet available through the new teens program.

Ikea To Sell Products Through Third-Parties Online

October 12, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Ikea will soon offer its products through third-party online retailers in an attempt to reach more customers.

A pilot program is scheduled to start sometime next year, the Swedish furniture retailer said. The company is “curious” about what will happen as it plans to gather new insights from the pilot, Ikea spokesperson Josefin Thorell said in an email.

“[However], there are no decisions regarding what marketplaces we want to partner with yet, and also no decision regarding what markets,” Thorell added.

The news of Ikea possibly using the likes of Amazon and other third-party sites to sell its furniture and smart home products comes nearly four months after Ikea knocked down reports that it had reached a deal to work directly with the e-commerce giant.

Ikea said at the time that any products currently sold on Amazon or other sites are being done by private resellers. More than 2.1 billion people visited Ikea’s websites globally in 2016.

 

Amazon Echo Users Lean Towards Apple, Study Says

October 6, 2017 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

What does your choice of smart speaker reveal about your other preferences?

If you choose a Google Home speaker, does that mean you drift Android-ward? And what if you bought an Amazon Echo?

Well, let me tell you. I have just been made smarter by a piece of research from securities intelligence consultancy Consumer Intelligence Research Partners.

It chatted with 300 Amazon Echo and Google Homeowners between July 11 and 27.

It concluded that those who own an Echo — which reminds me of the result of an ill-starred relationship between an air-purifier and a lipstick — have a penchant for Cupertino.

Of those surveyed, 55 percent of Echo users have an iPhone. The remainder have Android. Conversely, 75 percent of those who bought the oversized salt cellar known as Google Home are committed to Android phones.

Josh Lowitz, partner and co-founder of CIRP, insisted in a press release that the proportion of iPhone owners among Echo users was higher than the phone’s share of the US market. That stands at roughly 34 percent.

As for the proportion of Android users among Homeowners, that was merely consistent with Android’s share of the US phone market, he said. (Numbers vary as to how big Android’s share is. Some place it at around the 55 percent mark.)

Lowitz didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

When it comes to tablets, Echo owners also skew toward Apple, says the research. 49 percent have an iPad, while 25 percent own an Amazon Fire tablet.

Amazon Gets Hit With Huge Tax Bill From The EU

October 5, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Amazon has been informed that it must pay about 250 million euros ($294.38 million) in back taxes to Luxembourg, the latest U.S. tech company to be caught up in a European Union crackdown on unfair tax deals.

The fine was much lower than some sources close to the case had expected and is only a fraction of the 13 billion euros that Apple Inc was ordered to pay to Ireland last year.

EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, who has other big U.S. tech companies in her sights, has taken a tough line on multinational companies’ approach to tax.

“Luxembourg gave illegal tax benefits to Amazon. As a result, almost three-quarters of Amazon’s profits were not taxed,” Vestager said.

Amazon said it was considering an appeal.

“We believe that Amazon did not receive any special treatment from Luxembourg and that we paid tax in full accordance with both Luxembourg and international tax law,” Amazon said in a statement after the announcement.

Though the EU has taken on several U.S. tech companies, both in antitrust and in tax avoidance cases, Vestager said that her approach was not biased against foreign companies

 “This is about competition in Europe, no matter your flag, no matter your ownership,” Vestager said.

She also welcomed the debate kicked off by French President Emmanuel Macron who called for more integrated corporate tax regimes in Europe, aiming to close the loopholes used to reduce tax bills.

The Commission said the exact amount of tax to be reclaimed from Amazon would still need to be calculated by Luxembourg authorities.

The 250 million euros is significantly less than the 400 million euros which sources close to the matter told Reuters a year ago was under consideration by Vestager.

The Commission said Luxembourg allowed Amazon to channel a significant portion of its profits to a holding company without paying tax. The holding company was allowed to do this because it held certain intellectual property rights.

“The Commission’s investigation showed that the level of the royalty payments, endorsed by the tax ruling, was inflated and did not reflect economic reality,” the Commission said in a statement.

Amazon, which employs 1,500 in the grand duchy, is one of the biggest employers in the country of half a million people. The U.S. company, which has a Europe-wide staff of some 50,000, in 2016 made a $2.4 billion profit on global revenues of $136 billion.

Amazon’s Streaming Of NFL Game Logged Nearly 2M Viewers

October 2, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Nearly 2 million people logged onto Amazon.com  for the online retailer’s first livestream of Thursday Night Football, the U.S. National Football League said on Friday.

Some 1.9 million people tuned in to Amazon’s kickoff show and game between the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers, according to the NFL. That compares to 2.3 million for the first digitally streamed game last year on Twitter Inc,  which had the online rights at the time.

But viewers watched the broadcast for longer on average on Amazon. Its average worldwide audience for at least 30 seconds was 372,000 people, compared with 243,000 on Twitter for the first game last year, the NFL said.

Streaming live sports is a new, integral part of Amazon’s strategy to encourage more people to sign up to its Prime shopping club and spend more on retail goods.

Amazon Is Developing It’s Own ‘Smart Glasses’

September 21, 2017 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Amazon.com Inc is busy developing its first wearable device – a pair of ‘smart glasses’, the Financial Times reported earlier this week.

The device, designed like a regular pair of spectacles, will allow Amazon’s digital assistant Alexa to be summoned anytime at all places, the report said, citing people familiar with the plans.

There would be a bone-conduction audio system in the device to allow the wearer to hear Alexa without inserting headphones into his or her ears, according to the report.

Amazon was not immediately available to comment on the report outside regular business hours.

Earlier this year, Alphabet Inc re-introduced its own wearable glass headset, Google Glass, after discontinuing its production last year.

Amazon Being Sued Over Eclipse Glasses

September 1, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Amazon.com has been slapped with a potential class action lawsuit by a couple who claims defective eclipse glasses purchased through the online retailer damaged their eyes.

In the lawsuit, filed in federal court in South Carolina on Tuesday evening, Corey Payne and his fiancée, Kayla Harris, said they purchased a three-pack of eclipse glasses on Amazon in early August, assuming that the glasses would allow them to safely view the United States’ first coast-to-coast total solar eclipse in a century on Aug. 21.

Later that day, Payne and Harris began to experience headaches and eye watering. In the following days, they developed vision impairment, including blurriness and distorted vision, their lawsuit said.

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

The couple said they did not look into the sky without wearing the glasses when they viewed the eclipse.

Starting on August 10, Amazon said it began to email customers to issue a recall of potentially hazardous solar eclipse glasses it was unable to verify as having been manufactured by reputable companies. Amazon did not disclose the scale of the recall or a list of affected vendors.

Payne and Harris said they did not receive notice of the recall. They are seeking to represent other customers who never received a warning from Amazon and suffered similar injuries from the company’s alleged negligence.

Experts cautioned the public to steer clear of unsafe counterfeits flooding the United States in the runup to the event. While no data exists for how many eclipse glasses were in circulation overall, shady distributors of purportedly solar-safe shades abound on the Internet, experts said.

Walmart Teaming With Google On Voice-based Shopping

August 24, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Walmart Stores Inc is joining forces with Alphabet Inc’s Google to enter the nascent voice-shopping market, currently dominated by Amazon.com Inc, adding another front to Wal-Mart’s battle with the online megastore.

Google, which makes the Android software used to run most of the world’s smartphones, will offer hundreds of thousands of Walmart items on its voice-controlled Google Assistant platform from late September, Walmart’s head of e-commerce, Marc Lore, wrote in a blog post on Wednesday.

Lore, who joined the world’s largest retailer after it bought his e-commerce company Jet.com, said Walmart would offer a wider selection than any retailer on the platform.

Amazon, whose voice-controlled aide Alexa allows users to shop from the retailer, has the lion’s share of the U.S. voice-controlled device industry, with its Echo devices accounting for 72.2 percent of the market in 2016, far ahead of the Google Home gadget’s 22 percent, according to research firm eMarketer.

Amazon has also dominated Wal-Mart and other brick-and-mortar retailers in online sales.

Wal-Mart has begun pushing back aggressively, however, offering discounts to customers who buy online and pick up in-store, and free two-day shipping for purchases of $35 or more. The latter move even forced Amazon, which rarely imitates the competition, to lower its threshold for free shipping.

Lore said in the blog post Walmart was also integrating its quick reordering tool into Google’s same-day delivery service.

“One of the primary-use cases for voice shopping will be the ability to build a basket of previously purchased everyday essentials,” he said in an interview.

He added that Walmart has bigger plans for voice shopping next year that will involve capitalizing on its 4,700 U.S. stores to “create customer experiences that don’t currently exist within voice shopping anywhere else.”

Customers might be able to use voice shopping to pick up a discounted order in-store or buy fresh groceries across the country, he said.

But while both Amazon and Google’s voice-controlled speakers are gaining in popularity, people still mainly use them for such basic tasks as placing phone calls or playing music.

To boost voice purchases, Amazon has started offering Alexa-only shopping deals.

“We’re still in early days, but shopping isn’t yet one of the big uses of the devices,” Victoria Petrock, principal analyst at research firm eMarketer, said on Tuesday.

“Obstacles to people using the devices to shop are cost and privacy. A little more than six in 10 people are concerned that these virtual assistants are spying on them.”

Amazon Extends Brick-and-Mortar Push With ‘Instant Pickup’

August 17, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Amazon.com Inc is introducing U.S. pickup points where shoppers can retrieve items immediately after ordering them, shortening delivery times from hours to minutes in its latest move into brick-and-mortar retail.

The world’s largest online retailer has launched ‘Instant Pickup’ points around five college campuses, such as the University of California at Berkeley, it said on Tuesday. Amazon has plans to add the program to more sites by the end of the year.

Shoppers on Amazon’s mobile app can select from several hundred fast-selling items at each location, from snacks and drinks to phone chargers. Amazon employees in a back room then load orders into lockers within two minutes, and customers receive bar codes to access them.

The e-commerce company, which said in June it would buy Whole Foods Market Inc for $13.7 billion, has come to realize that certain transactions like buying fresh produce are hard to shift online. It’s Instant Pickup program targets another laggard: impulse buys.

“I want to buy a can of coke because I’m thirsty,” said Ripley MacDonald, Amazon’s director of student programs. “There’s no chance I’m going to order that on Amazon.com and wait however long it’s going to take for that to ship to me.”

“I can provide that kind of service here,” he said of the new program.

Amazon’s ability to shorten delivery times has been a sore point for brick-and-mortar retailers, who have struggled to grow sales as customers have turned to convenient online options. Until Instant Pickup, Amazon shoppers could expect their orders within an hour at best via the company’s Prime Now program, or within 15 minutes for grocery orders via AmazonFresh Pickup.

Amazon Issues Recall For Solar Eclipse Glasses

August 15, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Amazon has issued a recall to consumers who purchased eclipse glasses that may not have come from a recommended manufacturer.

The internet retailer began notifying buyers of the unverified glasses on Saturday, warning them not to use the product for viewing the much-anticipated total solar eclipse later this month. Customers who didn’t receive a recall email are safe to use the ones they purchased.

“We recommend that you DO NOT use this product to view the sun or the eclipse,” the email said.

Sales of eclipse glasses have been hot ahead of the Aug. 21 event, when the moon will pass in front of the sun, completely blotting it out for those along a 70-mile-wide corridor stretching across the contiguous United States.

Amazon said it issued the recall over concerns with the quality of the glasses.

“Safety is among our highest priorities. Out of an abundance of caution, we have proactively reached out to customers and provided refunds for eclipse glasses that may not comply with industry standards,” Amazon said in a statement. ” We want customers to buy with confidence anytime they make a purchase on Amazon.com and eclipse glasses sold on Amazon.com are required to comply with the relevant ISO standard.”

The American Astronomical Society has information on how to make sure you are purchasing effective glasses for viewing the solar eclipse.

Amazon Jumps Into Social Media Shopping With Spark Launch

July 21, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Amazon.com Inc has rolled out a social feature called Spark that encourages members to showcase and purchase products on its platforms, the retail giant’s first clear move into the world of social media.

Spark, which is currently only available for Amazon’s premium paying Prime members, encourages users to share photos and videos, just like popular social media platforms Instagram and Pinterest. The new feature publicly launched on Tuesday for use on mobile devices that use Apple’s iOS operating system.

Spark users can tag products on their posts that are available on Amazon and anyone browsing the feeds can instantly find and purchase them on the platform. Users can also respond to posts with “smiles,” equivalent to Facebook’s “likes.”

“We created Spark to allow customers to discover – and shop – stories and ideas from a community that likes what they like,” said an Amazon spokeswoman.

“When customers first visit Spark, they select at least five interests they’d like to follow and we’ll create a feed of relevant content contributed by others. Customers shop their feed by tapping on product links or photos with the shopping bag icon.”

Amazon has also invited publishers including paid influencers and bloggers to post on Spark. Their posts are identified with a sponsored hashtag.

Facebook Looks To Enter Original Content TV Market

June 27, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook Inc is holding discussions with Hollywood studios about producing scripted, TV-quality shows, with an aim of launching original programming by late summer, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The social networking giant has indicated that it was willing to commit to production budgets as high as $3 million per episode, in meetings with Hollywood talent agencies, the Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

Facebook is hoping to target audiences from ages 13 to 34, with a focus on the 17 to 30 range. The company has already lined up “Strangers”, a relationship drama, and a game show, “Last State Standing”, the report said.

Facebook could not be immediately reached for comment.

The company is expected to release episodes in a traditional manner, instead of dropping an entire season in one go like Netflix Inc and Amazon.com Inc, WSJ reported.

The company is also willing to share its viewership data with Hollywood, the report said.

Apple Inc hired co-presidents of Sony Pictures Television, Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg, earlier this month, to lead its video-programming efforts.

Apple began its long-awaited move into original television series last week, with a reality show called “Planet of the Apps”, an unscripted show about developers trying to interest celebrity mentors with a 60-second pitch on an escalator.

The company’s future programming plans include an adaptation of comedian James Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke” segment from his CBS Corp  show that will begin airing in August.

 

Amazon Files Patent For ‘Drone Towers’ Delivery Facility

June 26, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

One can argue that Amazon has some lofty ideas for drone delivery.

The e-commerce giant has filed a patent application for a “multi-level fulfillment center” that would allow drones to deliver packages in urban areas. Basically, it sounds like a giant robot-powered tower that would make it easy for drones to zip in and out as they deliver packages around a city.

There’s a “growing need and desire to locate fulfillment centers within cities, such as in downtown districts and densely populated parts of the cities,” Amazon says in the patent application, published Thursday by the US Patent and Trademark Office along with several other drone-related applications by the company.

The other patent applications, which were earlier spotted by The Mercury News, cover things like drone performance and noise control. Amazon didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Of course, patents are no guarantee this drone tower will become a reality, but Amazon’s been pursuing drone deliveries in recent years. In March, the company’s drone delivery arm, Amazon Prime Air, shipped its first package out in public in the US. Amazon, UPS, Google and others are also developing drone delivery tech in hopes of bringing shipments to customers more quickly and cheaply.

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