Paula Byrne, chief of Amazon’s newly announced VoD-focused development centre in London, tells Andrew McDonald about the online giant’s digital plans.
Amazon’s announcement this week that it will open a digital development hub in London makes it the latest big technology firm to make a major push into the UK capital. Also this week, Facebook revealed it is recruiting an engineering team in the city to work on mobile and platform initiatives.
However, it is Amazon’s move, rather than Facebook’s, that promises to have a big impact on the digital video space, with the development teams from Amazon-owned VoD service LoveFilm and interactive TV specialists Pushbutton coming together under one roof for the first time to focus on producing “the next generation of TV and film services.”
Pushbutton CEO Paula Byrne, the newly appointed MD of the development centre, explains: “We felt London was a very obvious place to set up a global development centre of this nature. The UK, and London in particular, has a really fantastic heritage in terms of delivering interactive TV on to multiple platforms and to find the right kind of people is a very easy task in London.
“What the UK is very good at is combining creativity and technology and making something fantastic out of it, and that’s what we want to do here. We want to build fantastic services for viewers and customers not just in the UK, but the really important thing is we’re delivering services for Amazon customers right across the world from this development centre.”
Although Amazon has not said specifically what it has in the works, the recent developments the Pushbutton and LoveFilm technical teams have been working on paint a clear picture of what Amazon has in mind. As Byrne puts it: “The big screen and the web is our remit,” helping to deliver movie or TV content on the internet and to big screens via connected devices.
“The LoveFilm Instant service is something the team that is going to be in this dev centre has already worked on – delivering LoveFilm streamed to TV and movies to the PlayStation 3, to the Xbox, to the iPad, to a whole variety of internet-connected TVs like Samsung, Sony and LG.
“Because we don’t have just a UK and European remit, we’ve got a US remit too, we’ve done exactly the same in the States for Amazon Instant Video, which is a similar, streamed video service. In the last few months alone we’ve pretty much enabled tens of millions of homes in the US to get access to TV and movies delivered from Amazon on to devices like the PS3 and the Xbox,” says Byrne.
The new development push hints that Amazon has designs on ramping up its VoD presence, bringing its LoveFilm streaming service to other parts of Europe. While the UK is its home market, it is also available with a smaller amount of content in Germany, Sweden, Denmark and Norway, though competition looks likely to intensify with Netflix already announcing plans to expand into another, as-yet unspecified European market in Q4 after rolling out in the UK and Ireland earlier this year.
Indeed, while giving his keynote at MipTV earlier this year, VP of Amazon.com Anthony Bay told delegates to “stay tuned” for further roll-outs of LoveFilm, but refused to be drawn on whether it would adopt the Amazon brand name.
The fact that Amazon has secured an eight-floor, 47,000sq ft digital media development centre also implies it is ready to ramp up recruitment in this area. Yet Byrne is keen to stress the firm is currently focused on bringing existing staff from its LoveFilm and Pushbutton businesses together in one location – a move that will effectively separate out LoveFilm’s commercial operations with the development side of the business. LoveFilm’s content acquisition staff will remain in its existing West London offices.
News of the development centre comes five months after LoveFilm CEO Simon Calver and group digital officer Lesley MacKenzie both announced they were stepping down. Former LoveFilm chief operating officer Jim Buckle replaced Calver, becoming MD of the business – a new top title at the firm with the CEO post effectively scrapped. However, Byrne is quick to stress that more changes are not on the cards.
“In terms of staffing, companies always evolve and people move on and other people replace them, but certainly there’s no major change other than moving the location of these people into a new office which is alongside their colleagues from Pushbutton, who they’ve worked very closely with for the past couple of years,” she says.
“Platforms are constantly evolving; the digital media business is moving constantly. There’s always more power, more ability to do better things, so our business is to always make sure that we’re at the very forefront of anything that means our customers want access to different platforms, different ways of accessing content, different experiences. It’s very much our remit to safeguard that experience for them and give them a really compelling viewing experience,” says Byrne, outlining the task in hand. “We’re right at the beginning of a very long journey.”