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Why Comcast snagged Amazon video exec

Comcast vs Amazon splash

Comcast and Amazon tried to be friends last year, but today they look more like competitors. Comcast’s hiring of an Amazon Video technical executive could be the first shot in an impending was between the two companies.

It was reported in Multichannel News that Comcast has hired Euan McLeod to the post of vice president, IP video engineering. Mr. McLeod most recently served as Amazon global head of video, running strategy and development for Amazon Video, Amazon Prime, and Amazon Music. In his new role at Comcast, Mr. McLeod will take charge of Comcast’s Video IP Engineering and Research (VIPER.) VIPER is the powerful backend platform behind services like Xfinity Video, and the Stream IPTV service.

This is a very shrewd move by Comcast, and could be the first shot in the impending war with Amazon.

Amazon and Comcast have no reason to be friends

In March of 2016, Amazon began selling subscriptions to Xfinity services for Comcast through a new cable portal the web retailer created. This was the brainchild of a discussion between Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, and Brian Roberts, CEO of Comcast. The two were looking for ways to work together and the cable portal on Amazon was the best they could come up with. The partnership was a disaster from the start. The portal never worked right, and became a place for angry Comcast customers to vent their frustration with the operator. The portal shut down almost exactly one year later.

The truth is that Amazon and Comcast simply didn’t have anything to be friends about. And over the last year, Amazon has begun to look increasingly like a serious competitor to Comcast for video services.

Amazon could be Comcast’s biggest competitor in video

Last year Amazon launched its streaming partners program, and later renamed it Amazon Channels. Under the program, people can subscribe to third party SVOD services like Showtime, Curiosity Stream, and Starz through the Amazon Video app. They can then watch videos from the partner through the Amazon video app. Amazon manages the marketing, customer service, and billing for the third SVOD service. In some cases, it even handles the streaming through Amazon Web Services (AWS.) More than 90 SVOD services have signed up for the program.

Amazon Video looks very much like an a la carte pay TV service. Consumers subscribe to a base package of Amazon video, either paying monthly ($8.99) or annually ($99 with free 2-day shipping included.) Customers can then add more content through the Channels program, and they can rent and buy movies through Amazon’s retail video store. These are the same essential functions that Comcast provides through its Xfinity video service.

Comcast needs a more flexible video platform

Today, VIPER provides much of what Comcast needs to begin to compete in the open Internet market for video services. However, there are significant things missing that it must add if it is going to compete effectively with Amazon Video. For example:

  • Fast integration of SVOD partner content (it took months to integrate Netflix into X1)
  • Voice search across all Xfinity and partner content
  • Billing, marketing, and customer services on behalf of partners

In short, the VIPER video infrastructure needs to become a scalable aggregation platform for SVOD partners.

And that’s where Mr. McLeod comes in. He oversaw the development of just such a platform at Amazon.

Why it matters

Comcast and Amazon tried to be friends last year, but today they look much more like competitors.

The cabler needs to adapt its web video platform to allow it to aggregate third party SVOD services just like Amazon does with its Channels video platform.

Comcast seems intent on doing just that, as it hired a technical executive formerly in charge of Amazon Video.

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