New Amazon Video API Turns Alexa Into a Remote Control

Amazon unveiled its Video Skill API, a new tool set to help content creators turn virtual assistant Alexa into a sophisticated TV remote. With the API, Alexa can search for titles, actors or genres; play or pause media and adjust the volume. Developers can also create their own Alexa commands. It keeps track of enabled services, which means the user won’t need to specify a provider or device or add any extra commands. Alexa already controls Fire TV, but the Video Skill API now opens up those controls to any cable or satellite TV company.

CNET reports that Amazon describes Video Skill API as “a mechanism to enable catalog ingestion,” meaining Alexa will be able to search through different services to find the content. Among the early adopters are Dish, and European companies YouView and Netgem. The debut of Video Skill API is also timed to the arrival of Alexa-enabled smart TVs.

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Amazon is giving away “free Echo Dots to any developer who publishes a video skill by the end of this month in order to help kick-start experimentation.” Amazon’s aim is to try to catch up with Google, whose Home smart speaker is still in the lead in home entertainment, “thanks to native voice controls for Netflix and YouTube.”

TechCrunch notes that, although “cable TV providers could offer apps that let you change the channel without using a remote … 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,” since developers have to update their apps.

A look at Video Skill API’s initial adopters, says TechCrunch, shows that “pay TV providers and those in the telco industries … are eager to adopt the API in order to stem their losses to streaming services.” Amazon reports that it is “actively working with many other video providers … but can’t share details because their apps and upgrades are still in development.”