TV streaming: Inside Amazon's new digital development centre

Online giant's global development hub is where it dreams up features for Kindles and tablets

"I'd have to kill you if you go in there," quips Paula Byrne, the Liverpudlian boss of Amazon's new digital development centre in east London. But she isn't entirely joking as she points out the locked area, with blinds closed, on one floor of the largely open-plan, eight-storey building.

This is the United States online giant's global research and development hub for all its TV operations. That includes movie-streaming service LoveFilm, which it bought last year for an estimated £200m, and PushButton, a London interactive TV app developer, which Ms Byrne set up before Amazon bought it.

There is good reason why Amazon, once just known for selling physical books and then e-books and more general merchandising, is investing so much in TV streaming over the internet. The world of entertainment is moving from physical to digital.

Not long ago, there were CDs and DVDs wrapped up around the Christmas tree. Now, millions of people will be receiving Amazon Kindle devices, tablets and other connected devices such as smart TVs. Within minutes, they will be downloading films, TV shows and other content, some of which will be from Amazon's Kindle store and its LoveFilm website and apps.

Amazon.co.uk says it has seen purchases on Christmas Day increase by 263 per cent over the past five years and, not surprisingly, it expects this year to be even bigger.

If it's anything involving Amazon and TV, the chances are that Ms Byrne and her team will have had a hand in developing it. New features on Amazon's US film-streaming service, Amazon Instant Video, are being developed here, for example.

London, not Silicon Valley, is now the global R&D hub for Amazon's TV operation, in this unassuming modern building near Old Street roundabout, the area beloved by start-ups that has been variously dubbed Silicon Roundabout and Tech City.

What's more, as sales of tablets and smart TVs soar, Amazon is looking to London, with its heritage in TV as well as digital skills, to be a hot-bed of ideas and features, such as "red-button" technology on the TV remote control.

"What's happening now is screens are coming together," says Ms Byrne, explaining how tablets, phones, laptops and TVs are becoming more inter-connected. "The UK was really a world leader in terms of making the TV much more of a two-way conversation rather than 'here we are, this is what you're going to be watching tonight'." As she gives The Independent a tour, it feels like a big start-up. Lots of casually dressed people, mainly blokes, in their twenties and early thirties are sat at computers.

The staff are a mix of software engineers, designers and "user interface" experts. One or two are tapping away on laptops on bean bags with big London illustrations from the Big Hug Company (Mayor Boris Johnson was apparently a fan when he came to visit). Electronic music plays not too loudly through speakers.

"In many organisations, engineers are at the bottom of the pile. What Amazon's really good at is empowering engineers," she says. "When you do create a nice environment, you can instantly measure how effective it is in terms of people enjoying coming into the office."

In some rooms, there are long rows of TV sets, as many as seven in a row, from different manufacturers. There are game consoles too, as that's a growing way to watch interactive TV. One of the key jobs of the Amazon centre is to road-test new technology from all manufacturers. There are a few signs that this a wealthy multinational: the lift has fancy tongue-and-groove wood panelling and there's a roof terrace with a giant chess set. Amazon has come under fire over offshore tax avoidance – most of its operations are based in Luxembourg – but the London office is an example of how it is making investment locally. Amazon created 100 jobs when it opened the centre in July and is "continuing to hire". There were existing staff too.

Ms Byrne will only say "hundreds" now work in the building. When asked about what precisely the developers are working on, she is again a little vague. The key, she says, is giving the consumer control over content and making it available as fast as possible. "The cleverness is how we piece it all together."

How about being able to combine viewing data with other shopping habits and "cross-sell"? That's outside her remit. The focus is on just TV.

Ms Byrne explains why she can't say more or show us inside that locked room. "We're working with competitive manufacturers. Even within the teams here, there are things that are top secret. It's next-generation stuff." It could well be next year's Christmas presents.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Advisor is r...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

SThree: HR Benefits Manager

£40000 - £50000 per annum + pro rata: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003