Company may move into digital distrib'n across continent

LONDON

The Kindle Fire tablet is finally coming to Europe in October, which could pave the way for a major push by Amazon into the digital distribution of film and TV content across the continent.

Amazon unveiled its second-generation Kindle Fire HD in Santa Monica on Thursday and confirmed that the tablet would go on sale Oct. 25 in Europe.

The original Kindle Fire, launched last year, wasn’t sold outside North America. It will also make its European debut on the same date.

Amazon bowed the Kindle Fire as the platform to introduce its Prime Instant Video streaming service, which gives subscribers access to thousands of movies and TV shows for a $79 annual fee.

In Europe, Amazon is already a player in the subscription video-on-demand business via its Lovefilm service, which has some 2 million subscribers, primarily in the U.K., with a smaller presence in Germany, Sweden, Denmark and Norway.

Lovefilm is engaged in a fierce battle with Netflix and BSkyB for the upper hand in the U.K.’s emerging SVOD market. Netflix launched a U.K. service in January and has already reached 1 million subscribers, while BSkyB launched Now TV in July as an Internet streaming service to complement its dominant pay TV platform.

The arrival of the Kindle Fire HD (which includes a free Lovefilm trial for U.K. buyers) will intensify that competition in the run-up to Christmas. It also fuels speculation that Amazon is gearing up for a more aggressive push into the SVOD market in a wider range of territories, whether under the Lovefilm brand or under its own banner.

Amazon announced last week that it is launching its App Store in the U.K., France, Germany, Italy and Spain. Given the capabilities of the Kindle Fire as a film and TV platform, the launch of video streaming would be a natural complement.

Amazon prepared the way for such an effort in July when it created a Digital Media Development Center in central London by merging the digital development teams of Lovefilm and app designer Pushbutton. New unit, with hundreds of staff, is based in an eight-floor, 47,000 square foot building in the trendy Barbican district.

Amazon has not yet announced plans to launch the larger-screen, 8.9-inch version of the Kindle Fire HD in Europe. For the time being, European buyers will get only the 7-inch display.

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