Amazon Alexa Voice Control Becomes a Concern for Broadcasters

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Amazon paints Alexa as the natural way to interface with a television, but its message has been forcefully pushed back by broadcaster Channel 4.

At IBC, Sarah Rose, C4’s chief consumer and strategy officer, voiced concerns around the prominence of search and discovery of Amazon content as voice replaces the remote as the dominant TV interface.

“As a content provider we have no control over this service,” Rose said. “We have to actively defend ourselves.”

This followed the declaration by Amazon that it rates TV as the most important device in home, “And the next space [for Amazon to tackle],” according to Amazon European general manager for Alexa, Fabrice Rousseau.

“Voice is a great opportunity to change the TV experience since voice can control content in a much richer way,” Rousseau said. “Voice enables a much more personal and customized interaction and service. It will get you to specific content much faster and will cut through the noise. People will find more of the content they want, they will watch more, and that drives revenue for all.” 

This alarmed C4—which, it transpires, is working with Google Assistant to trial voice services. Rose said Rousseau’s analysis oversimplified the situation for the broadcaster and content owner:

"We recognise that voice will be an unstoppable consumer force, and that we have to embrace and leverage it, but there are some bear traps we’re wary of falling into if we don’t think properly about how to engage with this technology. 

“We need to feel that voice enables us to continue to deliver a diverse and plurality of content, and that that won’t be taken away. One concern is that some of this more niche content may not be surfaced on a home page and get lost.”

She urged broadcasters to work together to standardise voice interfaces (meaning their metadata) “so that the consumer isn’t going to be confused,” and also urged Amazon to share data about Alexa's interactions with consumers around content. 

“The platform needs to help us understand usage. Unless we see data we don’t know how to provide services for it. The communication between tech giants and smaller players like us needs to be much more open that it traditionally is.”

Rousseau insisted that there were no plans to prioritise Amazon Prime over that of other content providers—as yet, he caveated.

Richard Halton, CEO of YouView, suggested that the spat between broadcasters and tech giants was a “proxy war” given that Amazon’s core business is retail and Google’s is search.

Adam Thibault, general manager of TV at V2T Nuance Communications, illustrated a middle ground in which voice assistant technologies and content/platform owners might partner. Amazon’s partnership with Microsoft in which Alexa and Cortana "talk" with each is other was offered as an example of a more sophisticated interface for managing services such as search, viewing, and retail in the smart home.

“Voice interaction today is not a conversation, but it will develop this way,” Thibault said. “If a consumer requests their voice assistant to watch ‘Game of Thrones’ and they don’t have the right subscription, they will be able to use voice alone to navigate a path to HBO and sign up to, pay for, and watch an episode or a series,” Thibault explained.

Rousseau said Amazon’s strategy was firstly to get broadcasters, platform owners and device manufacturers to integrate Alexa. The next step is around search.

“Our vision is for Alexa to be open,” he said. 

Smart speaker sales topped 16.8 million in Q2 2018, up from 5 million in 2017 and will be in 100 million homes worldwide by the end of this year. Some 20,000 different devices can be connected to Alexa alone, up from 4,000 at the beginning of the year.

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