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Amazon Opens Up Video Skill API So Alexa Can Control Any TV

Could Alexa’s latest API skill stem losses to streaming services for pay TV providers and the telco industry? Some providers seem to think so, with Dish, NetGem and YouView already on board.

The skill? Amazon announced June 8 that its virtual assistant has learned to control more than just the company’s own Fire TV stick: Now, for developers that opt to use the Video Skill API, any cable or satellite TV company, streaming service or content provider can add Alexa voice control to its app.

Users will be able to say, simply, “Alexa, tune to HBO,” or, “Alexa, play ‘Manchester by the Sea.’” They won’t even have to invoke a specific skill. Instead of sending Alexa as the middleman to “ask Dish” to play this or that, they can just ask Alexa to do it herself. She will be cognizant of the services users subscribe to and which shows or movies those providers have available.

Not all developers will choose to update their apps to integrate with Echo and Alexa devices. It remains to be seen whether popular streaming services like Hulu, HBO and Netflix will take the plunge.

But for companies that do, customers will be able to change channels, search for shows and movies, browse genres, play, pause and more, all with a simple voice command – no remotes involved.

“Customers are increasingly using voice interfaces as a hands-free way to manage their lives,” Amazon’s David Isbitski said in a June 8 press release.

“By using Alexa’s built-in video content controls, customers on millions of Alexa devices only have to ‘ask’ for your content and it’s at their command,” Isbitski said. “By integrating with the Video Skill API, you will make it easier for your existing customers to engage with your video content in their home.”

Dish was the first U.S. TV provider to offer Alexa integration back in May. Customers with Wally and Hopper receivers can configure their Echo, Echo Dot or Amazon Tap speaker to make friends with Dish’s equipment. They can search content by channel, title, actor or genre just by asking.

Dish said in May that it had lost about 143,000 pay TV subscribers in the first quarter. In the same quarter last year, it lost only 23,000. With 13.5 million subscribers still using the service, the provider is taking action to sweeten the pot before it’s too late. If that means offering the same services as the streaming players for which its customers are leaving it, then so be it.

In the U.K., Netgem has built a proprietary Alexa skill set to enable content discovery and set-top box voice control. And YouView is piloting a voice-controlled TV experience that lets viewers search, navigate, play content and use trick play, all with a simple voice command.

Other providers are in the pipeline, Amazon told TechCrunch, but it’s too soon to name names because those apps and upgrades are still under development.

In Other News…

Amazon has begun to explore the online auto market in Europe. German trade weekly Automobilwoche reported June 10 that the company has already made hires and is working on more. Industry specialist Christoph Moeller will lead the exploration. Amazon reportedly plans to run the enterprise out of Luxembourg and may pilot the offering in Britain.

Back in the good old-fashioned online store, the eCommerce giant has introduced a new feature called “My Mix,” intended to be a destination for browsing and inspiration à la Pinterest. My Mix is an outgrowth of “Interesting Finds,” the curated gift shop introduced last year with similar intent.

Interesting Finds has moved from obscurity to prominence, now featured as a banner across the site’s main page, as opposed to on a tiny hidden menu.

Finds has also added more categories, building off the original “women,” “men,” and “fun” to add more specific collections like “green thumb,” “bikes,” and “mid-century.” Shoppers’ likes from these categories drive additions to My Mix, building a custom shop of similar items.

This takes recommendations a step further than the Amazon homepage, which reminds shoppers of things they just bought, browsed or still need to buy. Boring! My Mix was designed to curate a fun shopping list, tempting shoppers to make additional purchases on a whim. Remember those impulse buys that used to be stocked near the cash register? My Mix brings those into the 21st century.

Finally, the company announced that its Amazon Lending service had surpassed $3 billion in short-term loans to micro, small and medium businesses. The loans can help SMBs expand inventory and operations early in their growth, and the Amazon platform gives them access to 300 million active customers worldwide.

“We created Amazon Lending to make it simple for up-and-coming small businesses to efficiently get a business loan, because we know that an infusion of capital at the right moment can put a small business on the path to even greater success,” said Peeyush Nahar, vice president for Amazon Marketplace.

“A small loan can go a long way.”

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