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Overview for Voice-enabling Your App and Content

With the release of Fire TV Cube, customers can interact with their TVs in a hands-free way (an interaction referred to as "far-field control"). They can ask Alexa to play content, search for content, control playback, and change channels on their Fire TV using voice. Even without Fire TV Cube, if users link their Alexa-enabled device (such as an Echo or Echo Dot) with Fire TV, they can also interact with content and control playback in a similar hands-free way. Or using the Alexa Voice Remote, customers can interact with their TV by pressing down the voice button.

To support voice interactions on Fire TV, it's becoming increasingly important that you voice-enable your apps. There are several techniques for voice-enabling your app: Video Skills Kit, Media Session API, and In-App Voice Scrolling and Selection.

Key Terms

Integrating with Alexa introduces some terms that might be unfamiliar. The following glossary defines some of these terms.

Video Skills Kit

The bundle of Lambda files and other code to integrate the Alexa Video Skill API is referred to as the "Video Skills Kit," or VSK. The VSK integrates the Alexa Video Skill API, which provides the deepest integration of your app and its content with Fire TV. Integrating the Video Skills Kit gives users the following capabilities:

  • App launching: When a customer asks to play or search for specific content, Alexa automatically launches the correct Fire TV app. When customers say "Alexa, open <app name>," they are directed to the app’s homepage. The Video Skill API automatically enables the Alexa video skill to launch the app.
  • Quick play: Customers can ask Alexa to play video by saying, "Alexa, play <show name> " or "Alexa, play <show name> on <app name>. Alexa routes the user to the correct app with that content, and Fire TV begins playback automatically (rather than just going to the detail page).
  • Search: Customers can ask Alexa to search for content by saying "Alexa, find <show name>." Searches that don't limit the scope to an app are called "universal searches" — they look for the content across all catalog-integrated Fire TV apps. Customers can also limit their search within the scope of an app, saying "Alexa, find <show name> on <app name>" or "Alexa, find dramas on <app name>." Searches that include an app are called "local searches." When customers specify the app they’d like to use, Fire TV takes them to the search functionality within the app.
  • Transport Controls: Customers can control playback via voice through utterances such as "Alexa, fast forward", "Alexa, fast forward 5 minutes", "Alexa, next", "Alexa, previous", as well as rewind, pause, resume, and stop.
  • Channel Change: For apps that offer live TV functionality, customers can switch between channels through utterances such as "Alexa, tune to <app name>".

By integrating the Video Skill API, customers will experience less friction in getting to your content, which will improve the customer experience. It will make it easier for customers to discover and play your content — which will encourage customers to watch more.

Note that even though your content becomes universally available on Fire TV, you still control what content is played and displayed on search results.

Integrating the Video Skills Kit involves the following:

Because the documentation is still evolving, some of it currently resides in a password-protected space rather than openly online. Your solution architect can evaluate whether Video Skill API is right for you and, if so, give you access to the documentation and sample code.

Completing the Video Skill API integration can take approximately one month for development work and several weeks for certification, in addition to the time needed to integrate your video-on-demand content into the Amazon Catalog. Reach out to Amazon to see if you qualify for Video Skills Kit for Fire TV.

For details on getting your video on Echo Show, see Understand Video Skill Integration for Echo Show.

Media Session API

If you don't have the bandwidth or resources to implement the Video Skill API, or your planned implementation is some months into the future, you can voice-enable the media playback controls in your app using the Media Session API. Media Session is an Android API that allows streaming applications to receive media commands, and it's the recommended best practice for handling events from remote controls, Bluetooth, ADB, the Fire TV companion app, and more.

Integrating Media Session allows customers to say commands such as "Play," "Pause," "Rewind," etc, during media playback. These commands work in both near field and far field devices. Media Session won't let users perform the more advanced voice controls described in the Video Skill API, where you can launch apps, search for content, and more through voice. Media Session integration just voice-enables the playback controls.

If you've already implemented Media Session in your app (most developers have), there's little to no extra work to voice-enable Media Session. You just add a special Alexa permission to your app manifest. Full details are available here: Voice-enabled Transport Controls through the Android Media Session API.

If you're new to Media Session and don't yet have it integrated into your app yet, see this tutorial: Implementing Voice Control with the Media Session API on Amazon Fire TV.

In-app Scrolling and Selection

Fire TV Cube allows users to perform scrolling and selection using common Alexa phrases. The in-app voice scrolling and selection works by mapping D-pad navigation events to your voice commands. D-pad refers to the remote control's directional keypad, which is used to scroll right, left, up, and down. Alexa converts these voice commands into D-pad navigation events that are sent to the app.

In-app scrolling and selection is a feature that Amazon manually activates on the back-end for apps, after ensuring that the app will support the commands. Amazon is gradually increasing the number of apps with scrolling and selection enabled. For more details, see In-App Voice Scrolling and Selection.