Foxtel rolls out voice command technology for viewers

You talkin’ to me?

I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more!

There is a chance the neighbours will think you’re trying to shake someone down, but a new generation of television technology is encouraging Aussie viewers to yell at the screen – and promising it will respond.

The technology is not only smart enough to recognise what you’re saying but it can recognise it as a famous movie line, and show you the movie in question if it’s available. The tech is being rolled out to the latest two generations of Foxtel iQ set-top box over the coming weeks, joining new hardware launches from Amazon and Google that are designed to replace button-mashing with voice controls.

And experts say the trend is likely to grow across Australia as more people get comfortable with telling their gadgets what to do. It’s predicted smart home device sales will rise by 30 per cent this year.

The pay-TV provider (part-owned by News Corp, publisher of this website) quietly began rolling out its new voice-recognition service earlier this month after testing it on thousands of its staff members.

Foxtel product innovation director Nick Dandy says the voice service is primarily designed to help viewers find the shows and films they want to watch, even if they don’t know exactly what they want to see.

“I remember going into the old Blockbuster video store and looking for a movie to watch, and there were probably less than 1000 movies to watch in a video store,” he says. “If you go into our catalogue, we’ve more than 40,000 titles available. This is really designed for search and making recommendations.”

To access the new voice service, Foxtel users need an iQ3 or iQ4 box, the Foxtel Voice Remote control that has been issued with the set-top boxes since July last year, and an internet connection. The remote is also available as a separate purchase for $29.

Dandy says Foxtel’s voice command system works by recording audio from a viewer whenever they press the microphone button on the remote. In just a few seconds this is processed and turned into a command that will be recognised in future. The system protects users’ privacy, Dandy says, as it is not constantly monitoring for a “wake word”, like a smart speaker, and is primarily designed to help viewers discover the content they want to see from a catalogue that can feel overwhelming.

Voice commands run the gamut from “show me romantic comedies” to asking to turn on closed captions, he says, though users can also announce famous film lines to see the movies they came from, or use voice controls to change channels, volume and pause shows.

“We have great shows for every family member, however, with so much choice, finding it for the big screen hasn’t always been simple,” says Foxtel CEO Patrick Delany.

“We are continuing to invest in innovation to reimagine people’s experience with Foxtel.”

Foxtel is not the only company asking users to talk to their TV. Google recently released a new $99 Chromecast set-top box to stream entertainment to the TV, while Amazon launched the $59 Fire TV Stick Lite. Both come with remote controls featuring a voice-recording button.

Telsyte principal analyst Foad Fadaghi says Australians are increasingly buying smart home devices with voice controls, and are likely to also adopt TV voice controls. In June, more than 60 per cent of Australian households had at least one smart home device, Telsyte found, with the number of connected devices expected to soar by 30 per cent this year.

“Our research shows the growth of the smart home market has been sped up by smart speakers,” he says. “Similarly, consumers are looking for voice control of their entertainment as well. That really brings Foxtel in line with the way things are going, joining Apple TV and Android TVs as well.”


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