How Amazon is muscling into entertainment

Amazon wants to create an entertainment experience that’s so compelling it can’t be ignored.

FORTUNE — For Amazon, quarterly earnings announcements are rarely about the bottom line; they’re more of a summary of how the e-commerce giant is investing in new projects.

Thursday’s earnings call was no exception. Yes, Amazon (AMZN) met Wall Street’s expectations, with profits of $108 million on revenues of $19.74 billion, but the company’s bigger message was clear: We want to be an entertainment giant.

During Amazon’s first quarter alone, the company released its long-rumored Fire TV, a $99 TV-streaming and casual-gaming device, unveiled its first videogame courtesy of Amazon Game Studios, and inked a major deal with HBO that gives its Prime Instant Video service rights to older HBO shows such as The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, and The Wire.

“We get our energy from inventing on behalf of customers, and 2014 is off to a kinetic start,” CEO Jeff Bezos said in a statement.

Amazon rarely gets specific about financials — for example, it doesn’t break down the number of Amazon Prime subscribers — but the company did reveal that streaming activity on Prime Instant Video had “nearly tripled” over the last year, and that the service’s catalog of available movies and TV episodes numbered around 400,000 — 10 times the selection reported earlier this year.

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A portion of the new catalog likely stems from this week’s HBO deal. Amazon has also invested heavily in original content creation via its Hollywood arm. According to the company, Amazon Studios has greenlit six original pilots for full seasons. Amazon also said its well-received political series Alpha House, starring John Goodman, will be back for a second run. All of that content will be available to Prime subscribers.

In the short term, it’s easy to think of Prime Video as a Netflix (NFLX) competitor, the former gaining ground on the latter company with new distribution deals and original content. But Prime Video is just one piece in a bigger plan. To wit, the Kindle now isn’t just about books: The latest Kindle tablets are veritable mobile portals into a growing array of content where Amazon is front and center. So, too, is the nicely done Fire TV, which I recently reviewed. It offers a living room entry point where Amazon’s growing content library is woven into the menu. Netflix, Hulu Plus, and other third-party content are also readily available, and HBO GO is due later this year, but their content is at least several more remote control clicks away: easy enough to access, but far enough away for some users to wonder whether they should just rent that movie or TV show from Amazon instead.

In other words, Amazon wants to create an entertainment experience that’s so compelling it can’t be ignored. It wants to offer original and exclusive content streamed via Amazon services and served up on slickly designed Amazon hardware, so competitively priced that few competitors can keep up. At heart, it’s the same successful strategy Amazon employed to corner (and irrevocably change) the book market, where the lucky few companies that remain, such as Barnes & Noble (BKS), are wisps of their former selves, while others have gone the way of the dinosaur.

If Amazon does to media and entertainment what it did to books, many consumers may not have much of a choice whose ecosystem they buy into, because the answer will be clear.

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