Amazon launches miniTV, a free video streaming service, in India

Amazon, which already charges some of the world’s lowest fee for Prime Video in India, is ready to go a step further to win more users in the world’s second largest internet market.
The e-commerce giant on Saturday launched miniTV, an ad-supported video streaming service that is available within the Amazon shopping app and is completely free.

miniTV is currently available only in India, Amazon said.

miniTV features web-series, comedy shows, and content around tech news, food, beauty, fashion, Amazon said. Some of the titles currently available have been produced by leading studios such as TVF, Pocket Aces — two of the largest web studios in India — and comedians such as Ashish Chanchlani, Amit Bhadana, Round2Hell, Harsh Beniwal, Shruti Arjun Anand, Elvish Yadav, Prajakta Koli, Swagger Sharma, Aakash Gupta and Nishant Tanwar.

“Viewers will be informed on latest products and trends by tech expert Trakin Tech, fashion and beauty experts such as Sejal Kumar, Malvika Sitlani, Jovita George, Prerna Chhabra and ShivShakti. Food lovers can enjoy content from Kabita’s Kitchen, Cook with Nisha, and Gobble. In the coming months, miniTV will add many more new and exclusive videos,” the company said.

miniTV is currently available on Amazon’s Android app, and will arrive on the iOS counterpart and mobile web over the coming months, Amazon said.

Amazon’s move follows a similar step by Walmart’s Flipkart, the company’s chief rival, which rolled out video streaming service within its app in 2019. In recent years, scores of firms including Zomato have added video streaming offering in their own apps.

In recent quarters, Amazon has also pushed to expand its Prime Video offerings in India. The company, which partnered with Indian telecom network Airtel earlier this year, to launch a new monthly mobile-only, single-user, standard definition (SD) tier (for $1.22), has secured rights to stream some cricket matches in the country.

This is a developing story. More to follow…

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Amazon issues rare apology in India over drama series

Amazon on Tuesday issued a rare apology to users in India for an original political drama series over allegations that a few scenes in the nine-part mini series hurt religious sentiments of some people in the key overseas market.

The series, called “Tandav,” has faced criticism from some people in India — including a few members of the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party — over its depiction of Hindu gods and goddesses.

In a message titled, “Amazon Prime Video Apologizes,” the American e-commerce group said it “deeply regrets that viewers considered certain scenes to be objectionable” and that it had either edited those scenes or removed them altogether from the show after hearing concerns from viewers.

“We respect our viewers’ diverse beliefs and apologize unconditionally to anyone who felt hurt by these scenes. Our teams follow company content evaluation processes, which we acknowledge need to be constantly updated to better serve our audiences. We will continue to develop entertaining content with partners, while complying with the laws of India and respecting the diversity of culture and beliefs of our audiences.”

The show, which stars several top Bollywood actors including Saif Ali Khan, premiered in mid-January and immediately prompted controversy and criminal complaints. Things have escalated in recent weeks as several high-profile executives of Amazon Prime Video have been questioned by the authority.

Prime Video has amassed millions of subscribers in India, where it competes with Disney’s Hotstar, Netflix, Times Internet’s MX Player, and dozens more streaming services. Amazon has grown more aggressive with Prime Video in India in recent months. It recently introduced an even cheaper subscription tier and secured rights for streaming some cricket matches.

Amazon’s rare apology today comes days after New Delhi announced new rules for on-demand video streaming services and social media firms.

Until now Amazon Prime Video and other streaming services have operated in India without having to worry too much about the nature of their content. But that’s changing, according to the new rules.

“The category classification of a content will take into account the potentially offensive impact of a film on matters such as caste, race, gender, religion, disability or sexuality that may arise in a wide range of works, and the classification decision will take account of the strength or impact of their inclusion,” the new rules state.

As we wrote recently, the controversy surrounding the political drama and the new rules from India for streaming services are only few of the challenges that Amazon is facing in India, where it has committed to deploy over $6.5 billion.

Last month, an influential India trader group that represents tens of millions of brick-and-mortar retailers called New Delhi to ban Amazon in the country after an investigation by Reuters claimed that the American e-commerce group had given preferential treatment to a small group of sellers in India, publicly misrepresented its ties with those sellers and used them to circumvent foreign investment rules in the country.

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Amazon launches mobile-only Prime Video subscription in India

Amazon is doubling down on one of the biggest strengths of Prime Video streaming service: Aggressive pricing.

The e-commerce giant on Wednesday announced Prime Video Mobile Edition, an even more affordable tier of the on-demand video streaming service — now also bundling additional perks.

Prime Video Mobile Edition, for which Amazon has partnered with Indian telecom network Airtel, will feature 28-day mobile-only, single-user, standard definition (SD) access to customers in India for Rs 89 ($1.22). This tier will also include 6GB of mobile data that customers can consume during the subscription period. To anyone who subscribes to Prime Video Mobile Edition, Amazon says it will pick the tab for the first month.

Amazon Prime subscription costs $1.7 a month in India and includes access to Prime Video and Prime Music.

The new Prime Video plan is currently only available in India. Its launch comes two years after Netflix unveiled a similar plan in India.

“India is one of our fastest growing territories in the world with very high engagement rates. Buoyed by this response, we want to double-down by offering our much-loved entertainment content to an even larger base of Indian customers. Given high mobile broadband penetration in the country, the mobile phone has become one of the most widely used streaming devices,” said Jay Marine, Vice President, Amazon Prime Video Worldwide, in a statement.

Airtel is the first roll-out partner for Prime Video Mobile Edition, and it suggested that it may tie up with other telecom giants as it looks forward to “expanding the reach of our service to the entire pre-paid customer base in India,” said Sameer Batra, Director, Mobile Business Development at Amazon. No word on when or whether Amazon plans to extend Prime Video Mobile Edition outside of India.

More to follow…

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The Expanse S5 review: The show is bigger, bolder, and better than ever

Space is mind-bogglingly big... but what happens there may not stay there.

Enlarge / Space is mind-bogglingly big… but what happens there may not stay there.

The science fiction space opera is by now a well-known genre, and yet somehow The Expanse is hard to describe. Let me try to sum it up at its most basic: The Expanse is a show about space. It is a show about society, about resources, about people with passions and problems and desires and—most especially—about what happens when all those things collide.

It is also, in a word, excellent. The Expanse‘s fifth season is the best since its first, a long-awaited high-stakes payoff to several seasons’ worth of setup. If you drifted away from the show during earlier seasons, like something accidentally dropped in microgravity, this new season makes it worth finding a way to come back.

The setup

For the first few seasons, The Expanse was concerned entirely with our own solar system. In its vision of the 24th century, we have fairly widespread access to spacefaring technology, just all at sublight speeds. The moons of Jupiter and Saturn might be accessible, but not so much the stars beyond.

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Netflix finally comes to the Amazon Echo Show

Amazon announced the Echo Show line in 2017, and today, it’s finally gaining access to Netflix. The video service joins Hulu and Prime Video as the only officially supported video streaming apps.6

The news came from Amazon’s yearly Echo event where the company unveiled a series of new products and services including redesigned speakers and updated Alexa capabilities.

Amazon executives spoke on how they have data that shows Echo Show owners love watching content on the small screens. Netflix should make that crowd happy. When Netflix, Hulu, or Prime Video is viewed on the just-announced Echo Show 10, the unit will swivel on its motorized stand, following the viewer if they move around the room.

#alexa, #amazon, #amazon-echo, #amazon-echo-show, #amazon-fire-tv, #companies, #e-commerce, #echo-show, #hulu, #netflix, #prime-video, #smart-speakers, #software, #tc

Amazon Prime Video finally launches user profiles to all customers worldwide

Amazon’s Prime Video is finally adding a feature that’s long since become a standard for streaming video services: user profiles. With profiles, Prime Video users will have access to their own Watchlist, personalized recommendations, and they’ll be able to track their own viewing progress, similar to rival services, like Netflix.

Customers can create up to 6 profiles for their household members, including 1 primary profile associated with the Amazon account, plus 5 additional profiles, which can be a mix of adult and kids’ profiles.

The new profiles will be first available in the Prime Video app on iOS, Android, Fire tablet (Gen 10 and higher), and the Fire TV Prime Video app, in addition to the Prime Video apps built for other living room devices.

Prime Video profiles were spotted earlier this year by NDTV, which led to some erroneous reporting that the feature had officially launched to all. In actuality, Amazon first rolled out profiles to its customers in India and Africa. It’s now making it accessible to all worldwide, including the U.S.

Image Credits: Amazon

For any profile set as a “Kids” profile, the service will only include age-appropriate content aimed at those 12 years old or younger. The search results and search suggestions will also be filtered to only show Kids titles. Children with a Kids profile won’t be able to make purchases, either.

Meanwhile, any adult profile will be able to play all the entitled Prime Video content form the primary account, including content that has been purchased or rented, Prime Video titles, Prime Video Channels, and Live content.

However, if the adult wants to set up parental controls on their account so this content is not accessible on a shared device, like the living room TV, they can do so. In this case, viewing restrictions will be enabled but parents can enter a PIN code to access the content, as they can now.

Parents can also continue to block children from making purchases from an adult profile by enabling Purchase Restrictions under Prime Video Settings, which will also require a PIN to complete the transaction.

The one exception to how child profiles work is on mobile devices. The Prime Video app will allow a child profile to access the adult profile’s downloads on mobile — a decision Amazon made because it didn’t want to restrict access to downloads if the device was taken offline, making it impossible to profile switch.

In addition, for customers that have set up wallet-sharing in their Amazon Household settings, Prime Video will automatically create profiles for those users. This can be disabled from the Manage your profiles page, but once profile sharing is off, it can’t be re-enabled.

The lack of user profiles have been, to date, one of the bigger oversights with Amazon’s Prime Video streaming service, first launched in 2011, and a much-requested feature for years. Today, streaming services don’t just compete on their content library but on how well they can surface the titles from that library by way of personalized recommendations and other tools that keep a user’s favorites and interests easily accessible. But Prime Video ignored this need, forcing all members of a household to share a single account. That choice told customers that even Amazon itself didn’t consider Prime Video a true competitor to other top services, like Netflix, Hulu and Disney+.

It’s finally correcting this matter, but only as the streaming market crowds with new offerings, like recently launched HBO Max and NBCU’s forthcoming Peacock, for example.

Amazon cautions that user profiles are being launched today, but not everyone will see them immediately. The feature is rolling out in phases, so you may see them arrive in a few days’ time, if not today.

#amazon, #amazon-prime-video, #cord-cutting, #media, #prime, #prime-video, #streaming, #streaming-service

Amazon Prime Video introduces ‘Watch Party,’ a social coviewing experience included with Prime

Amazon Prime Video is beginning to roll out a coviewing feature to Amazon Prime members in the U.S., the company announced today. The “Watch Party” feature, which is included at no extra cost with a Prime membership, allows participants to watch video content together at the same time with the playback synchronized to the host’s account.

The host of the cowatching session will be able to start, stop and pause the Watch Party as needed throughout the session, and those changes will also be synced to all participants’ devices instantly.

Each session can also support up to 100 participants — as long as those participants also have a Prime membership (or a Prime Video subscription) and are are watching from within the U.S.

While the video is playing, users can socialize with other participants through a built-in chat feature that supports both text and built-in emojis.

At launch, Watch Party is offered via Prime Video on the desktop and is supported across thousands of titles in the Prime Video SVOD (subscription video on demand) catalog. This includes the third-party content that comes with Prime as well as Amazon Originals like “Fleabag,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan,” “HANNA,” “Mindy Kaling’s Late Night,” “Donald Glover’s Guava Island,” “Troop Zero,” “The Big Sick,””The Boys,” “Homecoming,” “My Spy,” and others.

Titles available only for rent or purchase are not available within Watch Party at this time, Amazon says.

To get started with Watch Party, customers will click on the new Watch Party icon on the movie or show’s page on Prime Video desktop website. They’re then given a link they can share with friends and family however they want. Recipients who click the link will then join the session and be able to chat with others.

Amazon says the new feature was built as a native experience for Prime Video.

The company is the latest streaming service to roll out bulit-in support for coviewing — something that’s become a popular activity during the coronavirus pandemic as people are spending more time at home.

While the U.S. was sheltering in place under coronavirus lockdowns, a browser extension called Netflix Party went viral. Soon, all the streamers wanted in on this action. HBO, for example, partnered with the browser extension maker Scener to offer a “virtual theater” experience for cowatching that supports up to 20 people.

Hulu more recently launched its own native Watch Party feature for its “No Ads” subscribers on Hulu.com. Media software maker Plexa also rolled out cowatching support around the same time.

Amazon, however, had already offered a way to cowatch some of its Prime Video titles before today. Its game-streaming site Twitch had introduced Watch Parties this spring across over 70 Amazon Prime Video titles. The new native experience rolling out now offers a broader selection and has the potential to expand to more markets in the future.

If you don’t see Watch Party yet, you will have it soon as the feature is just now beginning to roll out more broadly.

Amazon wouldn’t comment on its future plans for Watch Party. When asked about the roadmap ahead, the company would only say that it introduces features when they’re ready for customers.

#amazon, #amazon-prime-video, #coviewing, #cowatching, #media, #prime-video, #video

Amazon Prime Video to globally premiere 7 Indian movies as theaters remain closed

Amazon has secured rights to premiere seven Indian movies that were initially scheduled for a theatrical release directly on its Prime Video on-demand streaming service in a move that has prompted two major movie theater chains to express “extreme displeasure” and “disappointment.”

The e-commerce giant, which is reportedly in talks to buy AMC theater chain, said on Friday that it will release these movies, which include “Gulabo Sitabo” starring Indian legend Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana, and “Shakuntala Devi” featuring Vidya Balan as lead, over the next three months starting with May.

Prime Video subscribers won’t have to pay an additional fee to access these movies, which span five Indian languages, the company said. Other “highly anticipated” titles are Tamil drama “Ponmagal Vandhal”, “Penguin” (Tamil and Telugu), “Law” (Kannada), “French Biryani” (Kannada), and “Sufiyum Sujatayum” (Malayalam).

The move comes as India maintains a nationwide lockdown that has left more than 9,500 theaters and other public places shut.

PVR and INOX, two large theater chains in India that together run about 1,500 screens in the country, said they were alarmed and concerned by the move.

“Such acts, though isolated, vitiate the atmosphere of mutual partnership and paint these content producers as fair-weather friends rather than all-weather life-long partners. Needless to say, INOX will be constrained to examine its options, and reserves all rights, including taking retributive measures, in dealing with such fair-weather friends,” said INOX in a statement.

Amazon, which began selling movie tickets in India last year, has been attempting to challenge, in INOX’s words, “age old, windowing-pattern.” In the last one and a half year, the shopping giant has struck deals with movie studios to narrow the window for a movie’s theatrical release to its debut on a streaming service to a few weeks, down from two to three months in India.

INOX and PVR are not alone. Last month, AMC Theaters said it will no longer screen films made by Universal Pictures, which released “Trolls World Tour” directly to streaming.

Amazon, which bundles Prime Video in its $13-a-year Prime subscription plan in India, said it is providing these movies a platform that reaches 4,000 towns and cities in more than 200 countries and territories. The company has not disclosed how many Prime Video subscribers it has amassed in India, or elsewhere. Amazon Prime Video competes with Disney’s Hotstar, Netflix, and more than three dozen other services in India.

Gaurav Gandhi, Director and Country General Manager of Amazon Prime Video India, said in a statement that “Indian audiences have been eagerly awaiting the release of these 7 highly anticipated films and we are delighted that Amazon Prime Video will now be premiering these movies for our customers – who can enjoy watching these from the safety and comfort of their homes and on a screen of their choice.”

It appears that Amazon hasn’t had to spend a ton to acquire rights for these titles. In an interview with Huffington Post India, Ronnie Lahiri, co-producer of “Gulabo Sitabo” said “it wasn’t like we got insane money from Amazon” though he called the deal a “win-win.”

“We’re facing a once-in-a-lifetime phenomena, not seen since World War 2. These are the times when things change. Initially, people have apprehensions but one has to adapt. That’s how human civilisations have prospered. The minute we stop adapting, we’re done. Instead of waiting for the situation to get better, you tackle it with other alternatives,” he said.

#amazon, #amazon-prime, #amc, #amc-theatres, #asia, #media, #prime-video, #pvr