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Smart Home

Amazon's new video API lets Alexa channel surf

New open software from Amazon will help outside developers turn Alexa into your new voice remote.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Amazon's voice-activated virtual assistant Alexa can stream your favorite songs, dim your smart lights up and down, or tell you a corny joke -- but controlling what you're watching on your TV has never been her strong suit. Today, however, Amazon is moving to change that with new native software tools that'll help content creators put her to work as a voice remote.

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Remotes? Where Alexa is going, we won't need remotes.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Called the Video Skill API, the new software gives Alexa new vocabulary that'll let her play or pause media, adjust the volume, or search for specific titles, actors or genres. Outside developers can use that software to create their own Alexa skills that'll let you control their content using simple, standardized voice commands.

What's especially cool here is that the Video Skill API claims to keep track of the services you've enabled. That means that you won't need to specify a provider or a device when you want to watch something, and you won't need to tack any extra invocation phrases onto your command. The API features what Amazon describes as "a mechanism to enable catalog ingestion," to help Alexa find what you're looking for, even if it means sifting through multiple services. Translation: Just say, "Alexa, play episodes of 'Family Guy,'" and she'll take it from there.

Amazon tells us that Dish, which already offers an Alexa skill with limited channel surfing capabilities, will be among the first providers to put the new video API to use. Other early partners include YouView and NetGem in the UK, with more undoubtedly to follow. Amazon's even offering up free Echo Dots to any developer who publishes a video skill by the end of this month in order to help kick-start experimentation. Clearly, the online retail giant is eager to catch up with the arch-rival Google Home smart speaker, which currently enjoys a bit of a lead in the home entertainment control race thanks to native voice controls for Netflix and YouTube.

The API debuts just in time for the arrival of Alexa-enabled smart TVs, not to mention the upcoming release of the touchscreen-equipped Amazon Echo Show on June 28. Expect both to take advantage of the new video skills as soon as they arrive -- and expect us to take all of it for a test drive in the CNET Smart Home, too. Stay tuned.