Open up and say, “HBO.”
Considered an engineering curiosity years ago, voice-based search is rapidly shifting from a feature rarity to a table stakes component among over-the-top video players as well as traditional pay TV service providers.
While new cloud-based systems and advanced voice-recognition technologies have much to do with this trend, the need for voice-based search has never been greater, thanks to expansive live TV lineups and on-demand libraries that are packed with tens of thousands of titles.
SPEAK AND SEE
Rather than laboriously keying in those search terms, the latest apps merely require the user to utter commands into a microphone to generate a list of TV shows and movies featuring the viewer’s favorite actors and directors or specific genres.
The latest to join the mix is Roku, which last week rolled out a voice-search feature for a new top-of-the-line $99 Roku 3 model (enabled by a new remote with an integrated microphone), and its apps for iOS and Android smartphones and tablets.
While Amazon’s competing Fire TV platform also supports voice search, initially for its own VOD library, as well as Hulu Plus, HBO Go, Crackle, Vevo and Showtime Anytime, Roku is looking to stand apart by tying its system into a much broader pipeline of content. According to Roku, its platform searches across 17 OTT sources: Acorn TV, Amazon Instant Video, Blockbuster On Demand, CinemaNow, Crackle, Fox Now, FX Now, HBO Go, Hulu Plus, M-GO, National Geographic TV, Netflix, Popcornflix, Roku Recommends, SnagFilms, Time Warner Cable (the MSO’s authenticated TWC TV app) and Vudu.
By searching across such a wide group, the new voice-based search capability “presents an unbiased view of what consumers can watch, and where they can watch it,” said Lloyd Clarke, director of product management at Roku, which has shipped more than 10 million devices in the U.S.
Among other over-the-toppers, the Nexus Player, the first media player based on Google’s new Android TV platform, has also integrated voice search.
Cable operators and other multichannel video programming distributors are also getting into the act.
The biggest one of all, Comcast, is nearing the commercial launch of its first voice-activated remote, called the XR11.
The XR11 is designed to work in tandem with the MSO’s IP-capable, cloud X1 platform, able to search across live TV, Comcast’s VOD library and DVR-recorded content.
Comcast hasn’t announced a launch date for the new product other than to say it will be released “later in 2015,” but it hasn’t been shy about touting the capabilities of the XR11, posting items in its customer forums about remote, which also features a backlit keypad and an RF-based “Aim Anywhere” capability.
Ahead of the full release, Comcast has been offering complimentary XR11s to select X1 customers across several markets. The XR11 remote will complement a voice-control feature already offered on the Xfinity X1 Remote app for mobile devices.
DISH SPEAKS UP
Dish Network, meanwhile, used the International CES in January to introduce a streamlined, voice-capable remote for its Hopper platform. The unit, which is free of number keys, is expected to be released this summer and come standard with all new Hopper units, and sell for $10 to $15 for existing customers.
DirecTV and AT&T, which are in the process of merging, have also been pushing ahead separately with voice search. About a year ago, DirecTV introduced updated smartphone apps for iOS and Android that include voice search capability. In 2012, AT&T released the U-verse Easy Remote on the iPhone and iPad, which helps vision and hearing-impaired customers control the TV with their voice or hand gestures.
The number of times HBO’s Game of Thrones episodes (seasons 1-4) were illegally downloaded from Feb. 5-April 6, up from 4.7 million in the same period in 2014. That allowed GoT to keep the crown as the world’s most-pirated show heading into its season six premiere on Sunday (April 12).