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NBC News launches an 'Alexa skill' on Amazon Echo

It's undeniable that the Amazon Echo is shaping up to be one of the first, truly popular in-home robots. The New York Times even included the device, whose Alexa operating system acts like a Siri who is always on in your home, in their 2015 gift guide.

You can ask Alexa what the weather is, to find your iPhone, to turn on the lights, to time your cooking, to look up directions and more. Now NBC News is making it possible for you to ask Alexa for poll results and other news realted to the election.

Found Remote interviewed NBC News and MSNBC SVP of Digital Nick Ascheim about their launch into the connected home.

Found Remote: Why did you decide to build something for the Amazon Echo? What made you think it's mainstream enough?

Nick Ascheim: Alexa is a platform with incredible potential and we wanted to be on there early to see how NBC News fans would respond to getting election information this way. We are clearly in the very early days of computers with voice interfaces so there’s still a lot to learn and a lot of technology yet to be developed. But from a content standpoint, audio is obviously nothing new and the idea of marrying up this tried and true medium with the ability to serve dynamic information — e.g. poll results or delegate counts in this instance — was an area we were eager to explore. We are looking forward to further developing this skill and adding others as the Alexa platform proliferates beyond the Echo into other devices, like the Fire TV and even cars.

FR: What role do you think TV networks will play in the connected home in the coming years?

NA: The term 'connected home’ can mean many things, but broadly I think you can divide it up into devices and applications that provide utility and those that offer content. It’s really not that different than the technology we take for granted in the home — some of our devices keep us informed and entertained like TVs and others provide utility like appliances. I think TV programmers will continue to play a crucial role in delivering entertainment, sports and news, just as networks like NBC and MSNBC have always done.

FR: What other cool Echo skills have you seen?

NA: The skills that impress me most so far are the ones that integrate services that you can access or control with simple voice commands. I recently integrated my FitBit data with Alexa and I can now check in on my progress throughout the day. While I haven’t tried it yet, I’m a fan of the idea of the Domino’s integration, and although I don’t yet own a thermostat that Alexa can control (I still have an old fashioned ‘dumb’ thermostat in my house), I love the idea of it. And of course my kids love the Magic 8 Ball skill.

FR: What are the highlights of NBC News' Echo skill?

NA: The NBC News skill is focused on the election at the moment. We partnered with Amazon to build the skill in just a few weeks to have it out by Super Tuesday. Initially you could ask basic questions about the candidates and primary dates, and we are constantly updating it. Future updates that will be released as early as this week include detailed bios on the remaining candidates, a calendar of election events, delegate counts, primary and caucus results, and there will even be some fun answers to questions like “Ask NBC News who I should vote for…” And of course there a few Easter eggs sprinkled in.

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Natan Edelsburg

I help run the Shorty Awards (http://shortyawards.com) and Muck Rack (http://muckrack.com). I also watch a lot of TV and write about it occasionally. http://linkd.in/nedelsburg

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