Amazon Alexa’s Oliver Messenger On How Voice Activation Will Develop For Brands

"We have the building blocks right now," said Amazon Alexa's Oliver Messenger at a panel at SxSW. "Developers are going to surprise us with what they’ll be able to stitch together from voice activation."

The rise of voice activation was initially propelled by the Amazon Echo’s Alexa assistant two years ago, but as Google, Apple, Samsung, and Microsoft have respectively stepped up their games to meet consumer and business demand, the question in 2018 to Connected Intelligence developers is where do we go from here?

Among the several panels and presentations at SxSW Interactive that tried to look into the near term evolution of voice activation included Oliver Messenger, who heads Alexa Video.

Voice’s Path of Progress

“Is there something that might come out of the blue and stop this progress?” asked Melissa Grego, CEO of entertainment networking organization Hollywood Radio & Television Society. Grego moderated the panel, Talk to Me: The Power of Voice, and put the question to Messenger and his co-panelists, Gracenote’s Simon Adams and Comcast’s Amit Bagga.

“Well, I don’t know of anything, but if I did, I would do what I could to try to prevent it,” Messenger said with a laugh. “I don’t think that there’s anything that will stop voice activation in its tracks. But I can think of several things that might help spur greater adoption.”

One key thing that voice activation devicemakers have to do is to make it “super-easy for developers,” Messenger said. “Take a company like Hulu; they have their own aspirations and roadmap. So for us, we know we have to make just easy to integrate so that consumers can use their voice to control what they want to see and hear.”

The balance of simplicity and complexity is another struggle that Amazon and competitors have to wrestle with, Messenger noted, echoing comments made to GeoMarketing last year by Dave Isbitski, chief evangelist for Alexa and Echo at Amazon.

With the rise of machine learning and cloud computing to fuel innovation, natural language conversations with AI have become an everyday reality — but even voice-activated intelligent assistants become a major factor in consumers lives, brands’ sense of how to approach them as a marketing vehicle is still in its infancy.

But “every industry can [add] value based on just having a conversation,” explained Isbitski at the time. And while the technology that consumers are using to power nearly every aspect of their lives has indeed evolved, ‘it’s still almost like what’s old is new. We’re going to back to just having a conversation.”

In part, being “conversational” requires advances in the natural language processing on the backend and the ability to transfer those capabilities to consumers in as simple a way as possible, Messenger said.

“I would hate to see voice become the problem of what it’s supposed to solve and get to complicated and carried away,” he said. “The bottom line for voice is that it has to always rely on a simple phrases to get you the information and access to content and products you want very quickly. Everything else – whether it includes orchestrating devices, services – should be taken care of for you without you as the consumer having to think about it.”

For Gracenote’s Adams, part of simplicity involves “rewarding” consumers by making voice activated content more interactive and personalized.

“We’re seeing a lot of convergence in terms of the various interactive content available,” said Adams, who serves as Gracenote’s GM for Video & Sports. “From the ability to get the name of a song as a movie end credits are playing to intersperse notifications for sports scores as you’re watching something else on TV, all these things will enable people to be up to speed with what’s going on in other areas of interest. All this converged content will make the interactive experience that much more rewarding.”

Next Steps

Messenger told GeoMarketing after his panel that he can envision more complicated actions from simple commands. The company is trying to explore “customizable routines” — something Google Assistant has been doing as well — that involves the user determining specifically what happens after they say “Good morning” to their virtual assistant.

“We have the building blocks out there right now,” Messenger said. “Developers are going to surprise us with what they’ll be able to stitch together from voice activation. Part of the advancements are driven by the end consumer, and part is driven by developers. We spend a lot of time talking to developers about our road maps and theirs, what they want to build. They spend a lot of time listening to their customers as do we. It’s in all our best interests to respond to what customers want and make it happen.”


About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.