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Amazon paid US$90m for Blink

‘VERTICAL INTEGRATION’:The deal’s price tag, which was previously unknown, suggests that Amazon might use Blink’s chips in its products and not only sell them

Reuters, SAN FRANCISCO

The Amazon.com Inc logo is pictured at the Young Entrepreneurs fair in Paris on Wednesday last week.

Photo: Reuters

Amazon.com Inc late last year paid about US$90 million to acquire the maker of Blink home security cameras in a secret bet on the start-up’s energy-efficient chips, people familiar with the matter told reporters.

The deal’s rationale and price tag, previously unreported, underscore how Amazon aims to do more than sell another popular camera, as analysts had thought.

The online retailer is exploring chips exclusive to Blink that could lower production costs and lengthen the battery life of other gadgets, starting with Amazon’s Cloud Cam and potentially extending to its family of Echo speakers, one of the people said.

Amazon views its in-house devices as key to deepening its relationship with shoppers. The Cloud Cam and Echo need a plug-in power source to operate.

Blink, which says its cameras can last two years on a single pair of AA lithium batteries, could change that.

Amazon declined to comment on the acquisition’s terms or strategy.

The camera maker announced its takeover by Amazon with scant details in a Dec. 21 last year blog post.

Analysts have viewed Blink as part of the retailer’s strategy for Amazon Key, a new program where shoppers can set up a “smart” lock and surveillance camera so delivery personnel can slip packages inside their homes when they are away.

Amazon also sees opportunity in the security camera market as “smart” home technology expands.

However, Blink was not merely a camera business. Its little-known owner, Immedia Semiconductor Inc, was started in Massachusetts by old hands from the chip industry.

Chief executive Peter Besen and two of his cofounders came from Sand Video Inc, which had designed chips in the early 2000s that decoded a new and improved video standard.

In 2004 they sold Sand Video to Broadcom Ltd and remained there as executives, according to Immedia’s Web site.

The group left in 2008 to create Immedia, aiming to design chips for video conferencing and later targeting laptop makers as potential customers.

Dan Grunberg, a cofounder who left Immedia in 2016, said that that plan fell through.

Laptop makers were unwilling to pay US$1 per chip when cheaper options were on the market. So Immedia pivoted.

“If we make our own camera, we don’t have to sell 100 million” chips, he said.

Grunberg declined to discuss Immedia’s sale to Amazon.

The Blink security camera, which hit the market in 2016, did not require a power cable like many rival products, making it easier to place around users’ properties.

It was cheaper, too, starting at US$99. Amazon’s wired Cloud Cam launched at US$119.99, while Netgear Inc’s wire-free Arlo cost more still.

Netgear last week said it plans to spin off its Arlo business.

“Battery life is a big issue in connected devices,” said Scott Jacobson, a former Amazon devices manager and now managing director of Madrona Venture Group. “Always-on cameras that last for months and don’t require a wired connection or an electrician to install could be game-changing.”

As Blink’s sales rose on Amazon’s Web site, the retailer took notice, sources said, leading to talks with the camera maker about a deal.

Flybridge Capital Partners, Comcast Ventures, Baker Capital, Dot Capital and some suppliers were investors in the company.

Amazon’s regulatory filings show it spent US$78 million on acquisition activity in the quarter that ended on Dec. 31 last year.

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