Last month, Amazon unveiled the Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote, an upgraded version of its Fire TV Stick which boasts new features, greater functionality, and the same price as its predecessor. The announcement came just days after Roku revealed its own improved product lineup and a week before Google showcased the Chromecast Ultra. Improved media streamers such as these are becoming increasingly common as device manufacturers seek to maximize sales before the market begins its inevitable decline, brought about by the rise of the smart TV.
Market leaders Amazon, Google, and Roku integrate next-generation technologies into low-cost media streamers
Amazon's Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote features an array of new and improved features such as High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC), a quad-core processor, the expansion of the universal search feature across 90 apps and channels, voice-controlled playback for Amazon Video, and its USP: the Alexa Voice Remote. The device costs $39.99, and consumers will also be provided with a free, over-the-air (OTA) software update later this year, enabling the customization of apps on the home page along with the addition of trailers, content screenshots, and the VoiceView screen reader.
However, Amazon faces increasing competition from its closest rivals. Roku recently unveiled its revamped product range consisting of five new set-top boxes priced between $30 and $130 as well as the $50 Roku Streaming Stick originally released in April 2016. The $80 Premiere, $100 Premiere+, and $130 Ultra boxes all feature playback for 4K content while the Premiere+ and Ultra also support High Dynamic Range (HDR), a Wi-Fi remote, and a headphone jack for private listening. Meanwhile, Google has announced the launch of the $69 Chromecast Ultra streaming stick which also includes support for 4K ultra-high definition (UHD) and HDR streaming.
Such announcements point to a growing emphasis on the quick rollout of affordable devices featuring next-generation technologies. The reason for such a strategy is the need to capitalize on current consumer demand and drive immediate sales before the market begins its decline. Ovum forecasts that while global media streamer sales will increase at a CAGR of 16.7% between 2015 and 2020, sales of smart TVs are also expected to surge in the coming years, rising from 88.4 million units in 2015 to 159.4 million units in 2020, meaning that media streamers will eventually become redundant.
Whether Amazon's newest Fire TV Stick can beat its competitors remains to be seen. On the one hand, consumers are unlikely to be won over by improved technical specifications such as HEVC and the device does not support 4K (although the $99.99 Fire TV box does). These considerations put it at a disadvantage, especially at a time when the company is expanding its range of 4K content and Google is promoting its own 4K streaming stick. However, the Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote is currently the most affordable streaming stick on the market and, though it is doubtful that current users will replace their existing Fire TV Stick for the sake of Alexa, the inclusion of the voice assistant provides an added incentive for prospective customers and could also boost sales of the Amazon Echo. Moreover, with demand for media streamers primarily driven by accessibility to content, the Fire TV Stick's improved universal search feature, customizable apps, voice-controlled playback, and ever-increasing content library make it an enticing proposition for consumers wanting an affordable way to access SVOD services without the purchase of a smart TV.
TV Devices Forecast: Media Streamer Sales and Installed Base, 2015–20, TE0004-001104 (August 2016)
"Global media streamers sales will double by 2020 despite decline in US from 2018," TE0004-001111 (September 2016)
TV Devices Forecast: Regular, Smart, Connected, and 4K UHD TV, 2015–20, TE0004-001065 (February 2016)
Media Streamer Content Strategies, ME0003-000570 (June 2015)
Holly Reid, Research Analyst, Consumer Technology & TV