DirecTV Adds Voice Search To Repertoire

DirecTV is giving its customers another reason to yell at their TVs.

The satellite giant is adding its name to the growing list of multichannel video programming distributors launching phone apps that allow customers the ability to search for shows, watch live TV and on demand programming and control their sets with the sound of their voice.

The product is actually an enhancement to its existing remote app for IPhone and Android devices, which currently has about 10 million downloads. Users can use their phones as remotes for their TV’s at home, or with networks that DirecTV has the appropriate agreements, stream live TV on their devices. About 70% of DirecTV’s on demand library is available for viewing via the app.

The enhancement will begin beta testing this summer but DirecTV senior vice president of digital entertainment products Tony Goncalves said the product is pretty robust in its current form.

“The idea here was literally reduce the friction of discovering content,” Goncalves said in an interview, adding that voice functionality was the No. 1 requested product from customers.

“We do lots of research, [asking people] what would make you switch,” he said. “In various instances the ability to speak to your TV and have it do something for you ranks at the very, very top.”

DirecTV isn’t the only MVPD to offer a voice activated app – Comcast’s next generation XFinity X1 service has a  similar feature and AT&T’s U-Verse has a voice recognition product that enables the vision or hearing impaired control their TVs via voice commands and hand gestures.

DirecTV customers need to have either a Genie DVR or an HR-24, HR-34 or HR-44 set-top or DVR and a WiFi connection for the voice app to work. The core technology is DirecTV’s, although the satellite giant partnered with Nuance Communications, the same company that powers Apple’s Siri voice recognition application, on the voice processing technology.

The product is remarkably easy to use – at a recent product demo in New York, phrases like “What’s on TV tonight,” or “Find Will Ferrell movies,” resulted in a host of choices on both linear channels and on demand. The app will also learn the customer preferences and make suggestions for shows and movies they might like. Users can also command their DVR to record programming remotely.

The app recognizes natural language and after several uses will learn the individual user’s particular speech patterns. Goncalves said that the functionality could move to tablets like the IPad in the not too distant future.

“We’re launching this with the phone, IPhones and Androids,” he said. “As we get satisfied with the way the product is performing, we will layer it into tablets.”