Alexa can already control your Fire TV to help you launch Netflix or find your favorite show, among other things, but today Amazon is announcing a new tool for developers that will allow any cable and satellite TV company, streaming service or other content provider to add the same sort of voice control to their apps, as well. With the new Video Skill API, developers could allow Echo and Alexa device owners to change channels, seek out shows or movies, search across genres, play or pause content and more — just by speaking.
For instance, you could say to one of your streaming video apps, “Alexa, find comedies,” or “Alexa, play episodes of Modern Family.” And cable TV providers could offer apps that let you change the channel without using a remote, by saying something like “Alexa, tune to HBO.”
That doesn’t mean you’re instantly going to be able to use popular apps like Hulu, HBO or Netflix hands-free using your Echo speaker, of course. Developers actually have to update their apps to take advantage of the API first. And not all will.
But Amazon says some companies have already rolled out apps using this new API, including Dish, NetGem and U.K.-based YouView.
If anything, this initial traction seems to indicate it’s pay TV providers and those in the telco industries that are eager to adopt the API in order to stem their losses to streaming services.
Dish announced its Alexa integration in May, becoming the first U.S. TV provider to allow subscribers to control their DVRs via their voice.
Customers with either Dish’s Wally or Hopper receivers are now able to configure their Echo, Echo Dot or Amazon Tap speakers to work with the Dish’s own equipment. After a brief setup process, watching TV becomes a hands-free experience.
Amazon tells us it’s now actively working with many other video providers, beyond these initial three, but can’t share details because their apps and upgrades are still in development.
In addition to being able to control the video app, the Video Skill API can import a provider’s own catalog to help improve the accuracy of Alexa’s responses, and it works without the customer having to first invoke a specific skill. That is, instead of instructing Alexa to “ask Dish” to play a title, do a search, or change the channel, the customer can give simpler instructions, like “Alexa, play ‘Manchester by the Sea.’ ”
More information for developers is available here.