Digital Dealmakers: Bill Carr

Sep 18, 2006  •  Post A Comment

The player: Bill Carr, VP of digital media for Amazon.com

The play: Amazon introduced its widely anticipated download-to-own service earlier this month, taking aim at the big iTunes bull’s-eye. The Amazon Unbox service makes thousands of TV shows and movies available to own digitally. Some are also available to rent. Amazon is among a handful of well-heeled media brands hoping to capitalize on the growing consumer interest in watching online video. Unbox squares off against iTunes and newcomers such as AOL Video. Microsoft is also exploring this market, as are TV networks such as Fox, which are developing download-to-own offerings on their own sites.

The pitch: The online titan is betting on its reach. More than 59 million customers worldwide made an Amazon.com purchase in the last 12 months. More than 70 percent of those sales were for media products, which include books, music and DVDs, Mr. Carr said. “We have a very large customer base and we are the leader in selling media products online. It just so happens that our leadership is in physical media products. [Amazon Unbox] is an opportunity to introduce the customer base to the digital versions of those products,” he said. Competitive differentiators for Unbox include DVD-quality movies and TV shows and the ability to download video on one computer and watch it on another.

The money guys: Mr. Carr declined to predict when Unbox would be profitable. Amazon has said it expects net sales for the company this year of $10.15 billion to $10.65 billion, or a 20 percent to 25 percent growth rate over 2005 revenue of $8.49 billion.

Pros: As the largest Internet retailer, with brand-name recognition that extends much deeper than iTunes, Amazon’s entrance into the TV market has the potential to capture a broad customer base beyond the young, affluent, early-adopter audience that iTunes has attracted. Still the Amazon service is optimized for users with broadband, Mr. Carr pointed out. He added that Amazon will expand the Unbox offerings to include more documentaries, foreign TV shows and foreign films. “We intend to appeal to a wide audience,” he said. In addition, the service lets users rent films for $2.99 or $3.99.

Cons: Though the service has been largely well-received, some early users have criticized the navigation and have cited challenges in uninstalling the service. “From our point of view this is day one,” Mr. Carr said. “There is so much room for improvement, and we are constantly focused on making it a better customer experience.” He said Amazon has a long history of upping the consumer experience; the Amazon bookstore didn’t even have a search function back in 1995, he said. Like most download-to-own services, Amazon Unbox does not permit burning a movie to DVD.

Size of market: Most consumers aren’t exclusive when they shop online for media, Mr. Carr said. “The typical media consumer doesn’t just watch TV or just go to the movies or just buy or just rent DVDs. They do all of the above. An avid TV fan or movie fan goes to the theater, buys DVDs and watches on an on-demand basis through cable or satellite,” he said. He thinks Amazon will now become one of the many options for media consumption.

The backstory: “Since I joined the company [in 1999], we have been thinking about making downloadable versions of movies and TV shows available to our customers,” he said. He also pointed out that Amazon has been in the TV business as one of the largest sellers of TV DVDs for years. Mr. Carr joined Amazon as a senior product manager in the DVD business and has been in his current post for two years. He also has worked for Procter & Gamble and technology firm Evare.

Who knew? Mr. Carr, 39, was born and raised in suburban Philadelphia. He attended Colby College in Maine and received a degree in economics and English. He lives in the Seattle area and is married with a young son. When Mr. Carr was a kid, he sang in the Philadelphia Boys Choir.