For Broadcasters, Voice Platform Still A ‘Black Box’
AMSTERDAM — To U.S. broadcasters who feel they’re on the outside looking in when it comes to voice technology and where their first moves should be, know this: You’re not alone.
A panel discussion on how voice might transform TV broadcast’s content here on Friday made it clear that voice is as nascent for European broadcasters as it is for their American counterparts. That said, a sense of voice’s impending impact is nevertheless keenly felt.
“We have to get our heads around this,” said Sarah Rose, chief consumer and strategy officer for Britain’s Channel Four, who is tasked with looking around the corner for broadcast’s next disruptions.
Driving a sense of urgency is voice’s rapid adoption among global consumers. Voice-powered devices — i.e., smart speakers — are expected to be in some 100 million homes by year’s end and there has been a 187% spike in adoption rates in 2Q year-over-year alone.
But while consumers are buying those devices, their “conversations” with platforms like Amazon’s Alexa remain relatively simple, buying broadcasters a little time still to map out a strategy.
“The interactions are generally one shot,” said Adam Thibault, GM of TV and V2T business for Nuance Communications, a white label AI company. “It’s not conversational yet.”
That’s because even for the mighty Amazon, which has pioneered the platform, deeply rooted challenges remain in the path to more evolved person-to-device conversations. “Speech recognition is definitely a challenge,” said Fabrice Rousseau, GM of Alexa Skills EU for Amazon, who said that that while the machine language behind Alexa is always improving, it’s still an uphill climb.
Rousseau conceded that even in his own home the intersections between voice and TV are more a preamble to viewing — bypassing the need to hunt for the remote control and dimming the room’s lights, for instance.
“It’s still day one,” he said.
In these early days, Rousseau said the most important thing is for broadcasters to just get on the platform as a first step. The problem is — at least for now — a cloudy view of all the steps that may come thereafter.
For Channel Four, having access to a lot more metadata from Amazon would help lift some of those clouds, Rose said, noting that broadcasters need more information on consumer behavior there before they can begin to take potential steps like customizing content around voice.
“It’s a black box, and we need some light shone on it,” she said.
Some of the light will need to fall on where Amazon and Google, the platform’s primary players, further develop search capabilities on voice. And broadcasters also don’t want to find themselves in the crosshairs of a proxy war between the two tech giants on the voice front.
But to Rousseau, Amazon’s deep investments in voice aren’t about doing battle with Google but rather an acknowledgement of a major impending shift in the computational interface that will resonate everywhere.
“It’s a change in interface,” he said. “Companies will be built on that. The world will change. TV will change as well.”
Given that, Rose said broadcasters need to confront a question they inevitably won’t be able to avoid: “How do we best prepare our product to survive in this world?”
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