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The Race Is On to Give Entertainment a Voice

Mari Silbey
6/1/2016

What do Amazon, Apple, Comcast and Google have in common? Besides being household names, they're all racing to provide the best voice-controlled entertainment experience on the market.

Following the success of the Amazon Echo, these big-name companies have all ramped up their product development efforts in the area of natural language interface technology. Here's a sampling of the product news and rumors from just the last two weeks:

  • Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN) announced that it's bringing new Alexa voice features to the Fire TV platform, including the ability to play video and launch apps with voice commands. And rumor has it that that the company is also developing an Alexa-enabled tablet, code-named Knight.

  • Depending on which reports you believe, Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) is currently working on a new Bluetooth speaker or an Apple TV (or maybe both) equipped with Siri voice-assistant features.

  • At Internet & Television Expo (INTX) last month, Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) updated the market on its X1 voice remote. The company has now shipped 7 million units and says it is processing 180 million voice commands per month. Plus, Comcast plans to showcase voice control in new X1 features designed for the Olympic Games, and the cableco is readying a second generation of the actual voice remote hardware. (See Comcast Boasts Global Plans for X1.)

  • At the annual I/O conference, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) announced its new Google Home product. The connected speaker, set to launch later this year, will bring Google's voice-activated assistant to any room in the home.
  • It was easy to dismiss voice-enabled interfaces as gimmicky early on, like the Clapper device from the 1980s that let consumers turn lights on and off just by clapping their hands. (And remember those creepy early Fire TV commercials with Gary Busey?) But the technology isn't just about controlling devices with voice commands. More importantly, it's about artificial intelligence, and creating interfaces that simulate natural human-to-human interaction.


    Want to know more about service provider market trends? Check out our dedicated video services content channel here on Light Reading.


    Unsurprisingly, as consumer brands have started investing heavily in conversational interfaces, so too have vendor companies begun spotlighting their voice-enabled UI capabilities. In 2014, Rovi Corp. bought voice technology provider Veveo, which it then integrated into its program guide software. (See Rovi Snaps Up Veveo.)

    And at INTX, both Nuance Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: NUAN) and MindMeld showcased their standalone natural language platforms designed for video service providers.

    Research firm Markets and Markets predicts that the natural language processing market -- including interactive voice technology -- will reach $13.4 billion by 2020.

    Companies pursuing new entertainment interfaces are also experimenting in the smart home space. In a cross between personal assistant and home control terminal, the Amazon Echo connects with products like smart thermostats and services like Spotify, while the Google Home device is described as being used to turn on lights and set the timer on an oven.

    Why all the interest in products that respond to our voices? Consider this: Whoever builds the best foundation today has a chance to control the user experience on a massive scale in the future.

    And if the fight over basic TV guide software is any indication (think Rovi litigation, and the fights at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) over unbundling video services from their navigational UIs), the battle for the mind and the voice of the home has just begun.

    — Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading

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    Joe Stanganelli
    Joe Stanganelli
    6/2/2016 | 12:38:41 PM
    Weird
    I have one of the voice-controlled remote controls.  Had it for a few months now.  I can count on my hands (probably needing only one hand, at that) the number of times I've actually used it (it's occasionally more convenient when searching for a particular on-demand title -- occasionally).  Absent those who are disabled, who are all these people using the voice option on the remote all the time???
    msilbey
    msilbey
    6/1/2016 | 2:59:09 PM
    Re: Privacy issues?
    Certainly the service providers are collecting data from voice commands, but I imagine the information is separated from individual identities.
    jayakd0
    jayakd0
    6/1/2016 | 2:13:43 PM
    Privacy issues?
    Unlike the current remote control technologies (which hides the user identity), will these voice commanded technologies could get exploited to pick up user signatures?
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