A man sits alone in an empty cafe playing with a wireless scanner the size of a box of tin foil. A woman holds up a scented candle and tries to answer the age-old question of what love smells like (“A combination of roses and sweetness,” she concludes). And singer Josh Groban is there too, for some reason, being interviewed for a segment about Valentine’s Day.
Welcome to the strange and evolving world of Amazon Live, a home-shopping streaming-video hub on Amazon’s website and app that many consumers — including Groban’s biggest fans — don’t know exists or even how to find.
Here you’ll find a mirror image of daytime TV as imagined by an online shopping behemoth. Polished hosts caress Santoku knives and office chairs on Amazon talk shows, while Amazon user reviews scroll across the screen. Beneath the video, a carousel of very clickable Amazon links glares at you, begging you to buy the same knives and chairs.
There are a select number of original Amazon Live shows with names like “Back to Business” and “Today’s Deals” available to stream live, or, more often, watch as a rebroadcast. What they lack in clever titles, they make up for in shameless promotions for Amazon-made products.
On “Smart Home Simplified,” co-hosts Lilliana Vazquez and Preston Konrad fawn over an Amazon smart plug, Amazon’s Ring video doorbell and the AmazonBasics Microwave (yes, Amazon makes microwaves). As the two professional lifestyle influencers introduce Amazon’s third-generation Echo Dot always-listening smart speaker, Vazquez suggests putting one “in every single room in your home.” Konrad responds: “It’s become the glue of my smart home.”
Most of the videos, however, are from independent merchants selling on Amazon. Small business owners who stand or sit a little too close to the camera while pitching peppermint scented foot creams, assorted posture-corrective products and dietary supplements.
“One of them helps you go poop, one of them helps you go pee,” an Amazon seller says to the viewer who is suddenly shifting in his seat at work while watching the laptop screen. “These are just two very natural bodily functions.”
I know this because I was that viewer. In fact, it’s entirely possible I was the only viewer for some of these videos. Because Amazon, unlike YouTube or even Amazon-owned Twitch, doesn’t display a view count.
I embarked on a lonely quest to binge-watch Amazon Live this week in the hopes of understanding why it exists and what it means for our existence. The answer to that first question, like so many questions in the tech industry today, is because Amazon can. The answer to the second question is simply: more Amazon.
Amazon declined to comment for this story.
Amazon Live was picked up by the tech press on Friday and immediately compared to QVC. It’s an obvious parallel, but one that unintentionally downplays the scope of it.
This is a collection of homespun videos from Amazon sellers hawking products while their kids mess with the lights in the background. This is YouTube and Instagram influencers holding court for hours of product placement about credenza desks, bath bombs and chocolate covered strawberries. This is 2019 distilled.
To think of QVC is to think of some bygone era when you had to tune in to the one dedicated shopping channel in order to find someone to sell you replica Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis jewelry. Now everyone is trying to make money off everyone else everywhere all the time – on YouTube and Instagram and Twitter, on Amazon and Amazon-owned Twitch and now Amazon Live.
And yet, even that isn’t the sum total of this project. This is one of the world’s most valuable companies flexing its increasingly profitable muscles and offering a glimpse at how seamlessly its many products can fit together. It is the live streaming of Twitch’s gaming platform mixed with the high-production value of a show that could appear in Prime Video’s billion-dollar lineup of original content. It is an endless parade of Amazon hardware devices and appliances and shopping portals, punctuated by hosts delivering brief sermons befitting the church of Amazon.
In a segment on office supplies, Matt Granite, also known as The Deal Guy, notes it’s “really weird” that people would get up from their desks to buy stuff in stores to make them more productive when the time it takes to do that only cuts into your time to be productive. His co-host Makho Ndlovu concurs: “It’s really nice that you can shop right from Amazon.”
And what are we supposed to be buying from Amazon? According to Amazon Live, the answer often seems to be products made by Amazon.
Over the course of 25 minutes watching one Valentine’s Day segment, I saw commercials and demos for the Kindle Oasis, two different Echo speakers and Amazon Flowers, an online flower shop. Around the same time, Amazon put out a press release announcing the acquisition of Eero, a startup that makes mesh routers for the home.
Suddenly the future was as clear as the HD resolution of an Amazon Fire tablet.
A 24-hour home shopping network on Amazon, streamed on Amazon products that are connected to the internet through Amazon products, promoting still more Amazon products while we sit eating food bought from Amazon stores and prepared in Amazon appliances before reading Amazon Kindle books to our precious children who were delivered by Amazon-employed storks. Our whole lives unfolding, pleasantly and efficiently, inside one long Amazon commercial.