Over the past five years, very few companies have single-handedly helped jump-start the streaming media industry and propelled the market forward as a whole. Looking back, companies like YouTube, Adobe (ADBE), Netflix (NFLX), Akamai (AKAM) and others have impacted the market in ways that most companies will never be able to. That's not to say that many small companies aren't innovating or are responsible for contributing to the growth of the market, (think Brightcove and ViewCast) but to truly move the entire market forward you need size and scale that most companies can never achieve. (Also see: Amazon Prime Streaming Will Disrupt Netflix, Here's How)
If you asked people to make a list of the companies that have had the most impact on the online video market, Apple (AAPL) would probably be mentioned by many. But while Apple gets a lot of credit for completely changing the mobile and music markets, and deservedly so, Apple has done little to truly push the streaming market forward. Apple is single-handedly responsible for starting the tablet market, yet when it comes to the iPad, the fact it provides a broken web experience and makes viewing video difficult, not to mention is lacking a content subscription offering, means that Apple's inclusion on the list could be debated. One could argue that the iTunes platform by itself is enough to get them on the list, and I wouldn't disagree with that, but I think others deserve more credit.
While no one would debate the impact of YouTube, in the coming years, other Google (GOOG) platforms like Google TV will reach the right size and scale to push the market forward, but for now, the impact of Google TV is a few years away. The next company I think should be added to the list who has truly impacted this market and will continue to help everyone in the online video value chain is Amazon (AMZN). Thanks to Amazon's AWS services and CloudFront they have made distributing video easy and affordable with their self-service model-- not to mention, provided a cloud based platform for a lot of other vendors in the industry. Add in the fact that Amazon now offers more than 12,000 movies and TV shows for free with Amazon Prime and Amazon's got the content offering growing quite nicely, and will drive more consumer video consumption with some of the same scale Netflix did.
For me, these offerings in the market from Amazon would be enough to earn them a spot on the list. But the thing that will really propel Amazon to the top of the video food chain will be the Kindle Fire. At no time in the industry, that I can remember, has a product come to the market that is affordable, dedicated to the consumption of video and will be sold by the tens of millions in such a short period of time. Some might argue that with more than 100M of the latest gaming consoles from Microsoft (MSFT) and Sony (SNE) deployed in the market that they would classify, but those devices are still dedicated to gaming. The Kindle Fire truly is a product that was developed to consume video and will be adopted by the masses, with video being front and center.
When Amazon announced the Kindle Fire they didn't stop at only thinking about the hardware and also developed technology, Amazon Silk, a new web browser powered by their Amazon Web Services that will optimize the browsing experience as well. And while many have talked about how much faster web pages will load with Silk, Amazon has confirmed for me that Silk "is not limited to small objects" and will be used to build full pages, including video, which should mean Amazon's Kindle Fire will see crazy fast startup times for video. Amazon also has a very good track record of coming out with newer versions of the Kindle quickly, so just imagine how the second and third generation Kindle Fires are going to perform.
Kindle Fires are going to sell like crazy and Amazon is going to do something even Apple couldn't do-- and that's jump-start the streaming media industry to all kinds of new growth and consumption of video related content. And that growth is going to help not only content owners, but also all of the vendors who help those content owners create, ingest, transcode, store, manage, protect, monetize, distribute and track their content. Within the next two years, the Kindle Fire is going to become to the online video industry what Apple's iPod was to the music industry. Many times I am asked what the next catalyst is for the streaming media industry and without a doubt, my answer would be Amazon.
Disclosure: No position