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After 17 years at Microsoft and a stint with Sonos, Marc Whitten now leads Amazon’s Fire TV division. (GeekWire Photo / Nat Levy)

Whether it’s through a dongle, a cube, or even baked inside your giant TV, Amazon wants to control the streaming experience inside your living room.

Jennifer Prenner, head of marketing for Fire TV. (Linkedin Photo)

The tech giant is well on its way toward that mission. GeekWire sat down with Amazon Fire TV executives this week at CES in Las Vegas, where they shared a new metric — more than 30 million active Amazon Fire TV users — that shows the company’s continued growth in the streaming arena.

Jennifer Prenner, head of marketing for Fire TV, said the company has top market segment share in the U.S., U.K., Germany, Japan, and India. Fire TV leads a streaming media device market that includes others such as Google, Apple, and Roku, which last week reported 27 million active users, up 40 percent year-over-year.

“We feel very, very good about our numbers,” said Marc Whitten, head of Amazon Fire TV.

More and more people are watching TV and movies with over-the-top devices. Streaming device ownership spiked from six percent of U.S. broadband households in 2010 to almost 40 percent last year, according to research from Parks Associates.

The Fire TV stick.

 

Amazon entered the market in 2014 with the first iteration of its Fire TV set-top box. Its product line now includes the $40 Fire TV Stick; the $50 Fire TV Stick 4K; and the Alexa-powered $120 Fire TV Cube that launched this past June. Fire TV also now comes pre-installed in several smart TVs built by partners such as Toshiba and Insignia; more than half of U.S. broadband households own a smart TV, according to Parks Associates.

Here are some key takeaways from our interviews with Whitten, who previously spent 17 years at Microsoft, and Prenner, who joined Amazon after eight years with Verizon.

International growth: Fire TV is active in 110 countries and Whitten expects more Fire TV investment abroad. “You’re going to see a pretty big push around going even deeper internationally,” he said. Japan and India are specific markets that Whitten noted. “They’re at this inflection point of how they think about streaming media and how it works,” he said.

Fire TV Cube and voice: The newest Fire TV device gives users a hands-free experience that takes advantage of Amazon’s huge investment in voice technology. It lets users not only control the Fire TV software, but also other smart technology inside the home. Whitten said the company saw a 10X increase in voice utterances with the Fire TV Cube versus the other Fire TV devices that come with a voice-enabled remote. He also said the TV screen becomes important when pairing Alexa voice commands with visual content — for example, asking Alexa to play music and having lyrics show up, or asking Alexa to show a live video feed from a security camera.

The Fire TV Cube. (Amazon Photo)

Live TV: Whitten said 2018 was a big year for people watching live TV with Fire TV devices, using apps such as Sling or Hulu, or Thursday Night Football on Prime Video, for example. In September Amazon also unveiled the Fire TV Recast, a $230 device that pairs with a TV antenna and can air live TV, with a DVR feature that can record shows. Whitten said Amazon is thinking of better ways to surface live content in an easy-to-digest format. “Now that more live and linear content is obviously available all the time on these types of devices, finding the right software experiences that really showcase that is important,” he said.

Hardware partners: Expect Amazon to get Fire TV software in more smart TVs. It is partnering with a variety of manufacturers that install Fire TV into their TVs and formed a unique partnership with Best Buy last year around this integration. “We’re very excited about smart TVs,” Whitten said. “You’ll see us really continue to lean in on those partnerships on TVs, both in the U.S. and internationally.”

Competition: Per usual for Amazon execs, both Whitten and Prenner said the company isn’t worried about competition from traditional cable companies such as Comcast, which now allows people to stream Netflix and Prime Video from their set-top cable boxes. Prenner said “it’s easier than ever to cut the cord, if that’s what you want to do,” but stressed that the focus is on the customer. “If customers want to stream Prime Video through Comcast, great. If they want to stream it through Fire TV, that’s great as well,” she said. “We’re really open to whatever is best for customers.”

Additional GeekWire reporting by Nat Levy and Starla Sampaco.

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