From Sony vs. Microsoft, to Roku vs. Apple TV, to LG’s webOS vs. Android TV, there’s always some battle being waged to rule the TV and stereo in the room where families spend the brunt of their time. Well, Amazon is quietly working to beat everyone — and it’s okay if you didn’t notice. Most folks haven’t.
Obviously, Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant is already one of the biggest players in the digital assistant game, with an install base of millions and a sales trend expected to put the system at a mind-boggling 500 million global users by 2020. But in addition to controlling your light switches, playing Bluetooth audio and reminding you of the day’s date on occasion, Amazon has been adding “skills” to the system by the armload every week, and it now offers more than 10,000, ranging from smart home add-ons to flash news briefings.
Another area that’s been on the rise as of late? Television.
You know the first part of the equation. The company’s Trojan horse has been the wildly successful Fire TV Stick (currently the No. 1 selling Electronics item on Amazon) and the Amazon Fire TV (which comes with a few extra features, including 4K video), both of which are basically Amazon’s beachhead against products like the Roku and Apple TV in your entertainment center. Amazon has sold millions of them, and the past several editions have included a killer feature that’s popping up in more and more devices these days. You guessed it: Alexa. The voice command button takes up a piece of prime real estate on the remote control, and cuts out the middle man when it comes to menus and searching. It’s a handy feature that sets Amazon’s line apart, and a brilliant (if not obvious) way to leverage all the time and energy the company has put into Alexa. Amazon is already a key player in the set-top box market, and they’ve been weaving Alexa into its DNA for years — and now it’s time for the next phase to begin.
Amazon has started cutting deals with TV manufacturers and satellite companies to make Alexa the easiest way to control your television — no remote control, or Fire stick, required. Sony recently announced some of its 4K TV lines would be adding Alexa functionality, while Westinghouse is also adding Alexa to its features list. Looking beyond the out-of-the-box experience, Amazon has also worked with Dish Network to add Alexa functionality to its higher-end satellite receivers, which allows the system to change channels, retrieve recorded content, and pause with nothing more than a few words. I tested the Dish skill myself, and there’s something freeing and truly geeky about being able to tune to ESPN, or pause the TV for a beer run, without fishing the remote out from between the couch cushions. Just say it, and it’s done. It also worked surprisingly well and fast, with straightforward commands that were just as snappy as manually pushing the button.
Putting Alexa into Amazon’s own streaming box is one thing, but now those skills are getting baked into devices and tech that make them more and more useful for all the Echos and Echo Dots already littering end tables and desks all over the world. Amazon is adding skills to Alexa on a daily basis, and with that tech showing up in a first wave of living room devices, Amazon continues to build its living room lead on Google and Apple’s AI offerings. If you’re trying to decide between an Apple HomePod, Echo or Google Home, learning your brand new TV — or the satellite or cable service you’re locked into a contract on — works with Alexa could easily be the deciding factor when it comes to platform choice. And Amazon knows it. More TV manufacturers will almost certainly join Sony and Westinghouse, and it stands to reason other cable and satellite providers won’t let Dish hold onto this advantage when the next iteration of their set-top boxes start rolling out.
Amazon is on the verge of changing the way we watch TV, and the “trick” has been to just put Alexa into everything and make it work well. Or at least well enough. Make it so convenient that you just use it because it’s always there — and at that point — why would anyone look to a competitor when they already have the feature set built-in, no add-ons required? If your satellite service, TV and streaming box all just work with the Echos already in your house, would you ever seriously consider a different platform? Not likely.
Amazon is winning the battle for the living room by making its ecosystem so wide-ranging and accessible that you might not even realize you have it. The company is already a leader for smart home early adopters thanks to the low buy-in cost (Dots can typically be snagged for between $30-40 when a sale is on) and expansive feature set, and if you’re already using Alexa to turn the lights on, isn’t the next step just firing up the TV and turning on some Fixer Upper?