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By adding live programming to Prime Video, Amazon could differentiate itself from services like Netflix and Disney+ that are focused exclusively on on-demand video.

Photo illustration: Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
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Amazon is looking to add live TV to Prime Video

The company has plans to add live and linear programming to complement its on-demand catalog.

Amazon is looking to add 24/7 live programming to its Prime Video service, according to multiple job listings posted over the past several weeks. The new channels could include live news, music and sports as well as scheduled movies and TV show showings.

Speaking under the condition of anonymity, an industry insider told Protocol that Amazon has been "actively pursuing" deals to license live and linear programming. "You should assume they're talking to everybody," he said. An Amazon spokesperson declined to comment.

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By adding live programming to Prime Video, Amazon could differentiate itself from services like Netflix and Disney+ that are focused exclusively on on-demand video. The move is also a response to the growing popularity of linear streaming services like Pluto and Xumo, and ultimately could be part of a different take on live TV: Instead of licensing the same costly programming bundles as traditional cable services, Amazon may be looking to combine its existing on-demand content and a much more narrow take on must-see live TV.

Video subscription services like Netflix have long focused on on-demand viewing, allowing their subscribers to access movies and TV shows at their own pace. However, a significant chunk of overall TV viewing is still dominated by live and preprogrammed linear content, as Amazon points out in one of its job listings: "Although video on demand is on the rise, the global viewing hours weighs in favor of live or scheduled TV."

Amazon has been experimenting with live programming for Prime Video over the past several years, which included licensing NFL Thursday Night Football as well as the English Premier League. In the future, it may also stream live concerts, political debates and news programming, according to a job listing for Amazon's Prime Video live events team. "This is a transformative opportunity, the chance to be at the vanguard of a program that will revolutionize Prime Video," that job listing reads.

Beyond individual live events, Amazon is also looking to license complete 24/7 feeds. "Linear TV enables customers to watch 24/7 streams of their favorite TV stations airing programs including sports, news, movies, award shows, special events and TV shows," one job listing details. Another specifically singles out live broadcasters and cable networks as potential partners.

The ecommerce giant began to stream live programming from news networks like Cheddar and ABC New Live on its Fire TV devices via a dedicated news app last October. The company also built a basic programming guide for TV channels sold via Amazon Channels, as well as live broadcast TV watched through compatible devices.

Now, it appears that a new guide will be key to a bigger focus on live programming: "We … are building next gen linear catalog systems to provide best-in-class Linear TV experience to Prime Video customers," one of the company's job listings states. "It is Day 1 for the linear TV experience on Prime Video."

Most of the big tech companies were at one point or another looking to launch live TV subscription services to compete directly with traditional cable TV. Amazon gave up on those plans in 2017 to instead focus on reselling video subscriptions via Amazon Channels, Bloomberg reported at the time.

A few companies did launch internet-based live TV services, including Google with YouTube TV and Dish with Sling TV. But these services have been hobbled by the TV industry's long-standing insistence on licensing networks in bundles and high licensing costs for popular networks. Sony shut down its PlayStation Vue TV service last year, writing: "Unfortunately, the highly competitive Pay TV industry, with expensive content and network deals, has been slower to change than we expected."

Amazon may now be looking to avoid a similar fate by combining Prime Video's existing on-demand catalog with a smaller selection of live and linear programming. This may not include the same lineup of channels as YouTube TV and Sling TV, but instead rely on programming, sourced in part from companies that already provide linear feeds to Pluto and Roku, to build what one of its job listings calls "the next-gen worry-free linear TV experience."

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