Analysts were unsure if Amazon.com is eyeing digital television, Webcasting or just a new version of its site that would be easier to navigate through Web TV. But they doubted the move is purely defensive, since Amazon.com would have a strong trademark case if a competitor tried to snap up Amazon.com-related URLs. Amazon.com officials did not return calls.
The choices the company makes for an Amazon.com-television service will tell much about the retailer's long-term aspirations. Industry analysts saw a variety of options. In the more conservative corner, Amazontv could emerge as a retailing platform for broadband services focused on delivering subscription-based and pay-per-view videos online.
Such an approach would begin to position the company primarily as an online distributor of entertainment and media services -- creating the Web equivalent to the kind of market position Blockbuster Entertainment Corp. once envisioned for itself. Or Amazon.com could be looking to make aggressive use of streaming media on a Web site, showing author interviews or music videos on its own site rather than signing agreements with companies such as Broadcast.com Inc. (Nasdaq:BCST).
"A good way to build traffic on a chat property is to have interviews with famous TV stars, music personalities or authors," said Seamus McAteer, an analyst at Jupiter Communications LLC, noting that Amazon.com recently bought PlanetAll, a community-oriented service. The other obvious path would be to create a streaming media service that serves up audio and video to sell merchandise much like traditional home-shopping channels.
Gary Arlen, president of Arlen Communications, suggested that Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos "wants to be the HSN [Home Shopping Network] of the digital TV platform. It's a really long-term play." And, he said: "Reserving domain names seems to be the way you protect your brand. I think Amazon could move along very well with Amazon.com on TV."
Such a move would reaffirm the company's oft-repeated objective to expand its retailing operations into a broad range of merchandise categories. Speaking with analysts last week, Bezos emphasized Amazon.com will be about more than books and music. In a digital television play, Amazon.com could broadcast author interviews or music videos, and viewers could purchase the related books or music with a click of their remote.
"They could have an embedded HTML [HyperText Markup Language] broadcast page in the television advertisement, and give you something to click on," Jupiter's McAteer said.
To do any of this, the online retailer would need to strike agreements with cable operators to get its programming distributed. Another Internet leader, America Online (NYSE:AOL), also is looking at television opportunities. The company plays its initiative, AOLTV, very close to the vest, and will only say that AOLTV is a part of its "AOL Anywhere" strategy.