Amazon Media/Telecom

Amazon Planning Video News App for Fire TV is planning to launch a free ad-supported video news app for its Fire TV streaming video devices, featuring live and on-demand digital news programming from TV networks, say three people familiar with the discussions. Ultimately Amazon hopes to integrate the news app into its Alexa offering, the people said.

With the news app, the e-commerce giant hopes to make Fire TV more competitive with its biggest rival, Roku, for both viewers and advertising dollars. Roku sells streaming video devices and has a fast-growing advertising business built on its platform of streaming services, including the free, ad-supported Roku Channel. The Roku Channel’s programming includes news from the likes of ABC News and Yahoo.

The Takeaway
• Amazon has approached TV networks about programming
• Amazon hopes to launch app in next few months
• News app would carry ads, compete with Roku Channel

Amazon has been making a push into ad-supported video as part of a bigger strategy to build an advertising business. It runs ads during NFL games on Prime Video, its primary streaming service, and this year launched Freedive, a free ad-supported entertainment video service for Fire TV device owners.

Amazon reportedly said at CES earlier this year that it had 30 million active users of its Fire TV device, although that appears to be a global number. That would put it ahead of Roku, which has said it has 27 million active users at the end of December.

In recent weeks, Amazon executives have approached a number of news organizations about negotiating deals to distribute their digital programming through the app, said the people. Amazon has also held discussions with Verizon, which owns Yahoo Finance and Yahoo News, the people said. It’s not known whether Amazon has reached any programming deals yet.

It is not clear if any of Amazon’s news content will be exclusive to the platform. Amazon is looking to sign deals with local news affiliates so that viewers can watch their local news, which may be how it differentiates itself from Roku’s offering, said one of the people.

The company hopes to launch the app in the next few months, although the precise time is uncertain, said one of the people. The app will carry ads that will run between news segments, although it also isn’t clear whether the ads will appear from the start.

While Amazon’s ad business is small compared to Facebook and Google, it is growing rapidly. It makes up most of the “other” segment in Amazon’s earnings, growing 95% to $3.38 billion in the fourth quarter.

Advertising is a core component of Roku’s platform business, which generated $417 million in revenue last year.

Jessica Toonkel is a New York-based reporter for The Information covering media and how the industry is being disrupted by technology. Before that, she spent seven years at Reuters covering a range of topics including media, mergers and acquisitions and financial services. She can be found on Twitter @jtoonkel.