Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) is reportedly hoping to be a TV star, but it's pretty lonely at the top.
The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Amazon is in talks with broadcasters and networks to license their television channels for a new online pay-TV service. One of last year's most repeated rumors was that Amazon was working on a set-top box. The thinking here seemed to be that Amazon's "Fire Tube" would be something along the lines of Google's (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Chromecast or Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) Apple TV. The box would engage with online services, but primarily serve as a way to funnel TV owners through its growing digital ecosystem.
Now it seems as if Amazon is aiming for more than just a set-top box. If the leading online service is able to get popular channels to sign on to Amazon's platform, it would give the dot-com darling even more clout. Unfortunately, there's a big difference between talking to the major media companies and actually striking content deals.
You can ask Google. It rolled out Google TV a few years ago, lining up some of the biggest names in tech as hardware partners. It then turned to the studios for content, but they weren't as receptive. Google TV stumbled out of the gate.
You can ask Apple. The consumer tech leader has been reportedly working on a full-blown smart television for years. Steve Jobs even told his biographer that he had finally "cracked" the code to make it work. Well, we're still waiting for that Apple HDTV, and the most likely reason is that the class act of Cupertino has yet to get the content it needs to offer piecemeal channels and content.
You can ask Intel (NASDAQ:INTC). Yesterday's report came on the same day that Intel threw in the towel on the Web-based TV service that it was never able to get off the ground. It is selling off the technology that it has in place to Verizon, presumably because it was never able to get the cable channels to sign on to the phantom service.
Google failed, though it's trying again by bundling a TV service with its Google Fiber service. Apple and Intel have stumbled before getting out of the gate. What makes Amazon think that it will fare any better? If it has to settle for having an online service that isn't all that different from what's already on the market, what's the point? One would think that media companies have resisted the urge to offer individual channels through Apple or Intel to protect the fat cable and satellite television bills that trickle back to them in carriage rights. Amazon isn't going to sway them otherwise, and it may be even harder for Jeff Bezos to do what Tim Cook has not been able to do given Amazon's disruptive history of cutthroat pricing.
This could be a real game changer for Amazon, but it's hard to fathom the leading e-tailer pulling this off in a way that would truly raise the bar in an industry that could sorely use disrupting.