The Amazon Fire TV’s shopping capabilities have slowly been expanding over time. It all started when an inert shopping app was added through a software update about a year ago. That app remained dormant for months due to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos sending the feature back into development for not having the ability to manage the app’s shopping cart. Instead, it relied on 1-click buying for everything. A few months later, we saw the first appearance of banner ads that allowed Fire TV owners to purchase physical items through the Fire TV for the first time. The arrival of Alexa on the Fire TV allowed customers to re-order products from Amazon using their Fire TV voice remote and that capability was expanded last week to allow ordering any Prime-eligible products. Today, the shopping features of the Fire TV expand once again with the arrival of new apps from HGTV and Food Network which have the ability to directly sell products sold by Amazon.
Three HGTV apps, covering “Gardening”, “Home Improvement”, and “Smart Solutions”, as well as a Food Network app about “Summer Entertaining” have just been released on the Amazon Fire TV appstore. Apart from a logo in the bottom corner informing you the app is sponsored by Miracle-Gro, LG, Bose, or 3M, these apps look like any other streaming video app you may have used on the Fire TV. They each contain a relatively small library of videos that can be streamed for free without the need to first activate the app through a paid TV provider, like is required with the main HGTV and Food Networks apps.
The difference between these apps and all other streaming video apps that came before them becomes apparent when you start one of the available videos. A message in the bottom left corner instructs you to press up on your remote to “View All Products.” The message remains on the screen the entire time any video within these apps is playing.
Pressing up on the remote pauses the video and brings up a carousel of products manufactured by the app’s sponsor. The menu functions much like the Fire TV’s X-ray feature which brings up actor information when viewing a movie or TV show from Amazon Video. In addition to actor information, X-ray also shows information about music being played in the scene. It’s easy to see product information, like we see in these new apps, integrated into the Fire TV’s X-ray feature in the future. The item name, price, star rating, and a short description are displayed as you navigate through the list of products.
Selecting any product from the list brings up the same standard product detail screen seen on the Fire TV when you click a product banner ad or shop through Alexa. From the product detail screen you can read the full product description, read reviews, see additional photos, configure product options, add the product to an Amazon shopping list, and of course, directly purchase the product using your Amazon 1-click payment settings. Pressing the back button on your remote seamlessly takes you back to the app you were in, with the video still paused, right where you left it.
Regardless of which video is being watched, the lists of products within these new HGTV and Food Network apps do not change. This is fine for the HGTV Gardening app. Since that particular app is sponsored by Miracle-Gro, all of the products displayed are somewhat relevant to the gardening videos within the app, but it’s a bit odd to be watching cooking videos in the Food Network app and be shown speakers and headphones when viewing the available products, since the app is sponsored by Bose.
I expect this new shopping ability for Fire TV apps to evolve to show products relevant to the specific video being watched. Perhaps, in the near future, you’ll be able to press up while watching a show or movie and instantly see what brand clothing an actress is wearing or what type of smartphone an actor is using, with the option to buy the same exact item immediately. Amazon’s nightly fashion show, Style Code Live, which when watched through a browser will display products being discussed on the show under the embeded video, would benefit greatly from this new shopping feature.
Presumably, Scripps, the network behind HGTV and Food Network, is receiving a portion of all sales through these new apps. The ability for third-party apps to sell physical Amazon products on the Fire TV is an interesting new monetization model for content providers. Normally, apps like these four new ones would play pre-roll ads to monetize their free content, but instead, they rely on selling products instead. This feels very much like an experiment by Amazon, Scripps, and the sponsoring companies. If successful, it could be a better, less intrusive way to monetize free content than traditional video ads.