FAQ Part 9: Using Alexa To Control Your TV

Publication Date: 1/19/18 – The Alexa FAQ series continues with information about using Alexa to control your TV. I’m afraid the news here isn’t too great, however.

Follow the links at the bottom of this post to view all other posts in the series.

Note that the information provided here is accurate as of this writing, on 1/19/18, but is subject to change in the future as the Alexa service and devices evolve.

Outside the US, Only Fire TV Is Supported (for now)
As of this writing there doesn’t appear to be any support for Alexa voice control of television sets, cable boxes or satellite services outside the U.S. The Fire TV streaming box with Alexa voice remote and Fire TV stick with Alexa voice remote are available in Amazon’s UK store, but searches on Alexa-enabled TV sets and Alexa skills for controlling TV services come up empty.

I expect that, just like other Alexa features, TV control will come to other regions in time. Until then people outside the US shouldn’t feel like they’re missing out, because Alexa voice control of TV sets and services is very much in its infancy.

Alexa TV Skills: What’s There Is Limited, Kludgy and Unreliable
Here in the US you can find skills that offer Alexa voice control for DISH TV, Frontier Communications and Sony’s Android TV (for recent Bravia TV models), but you’ll notice that all of these skills have low average review ratings.

Some reviewers cite unreliability, that the promised Alexa commands work at first, but then mysteriously stop working and the user has to repeat setup of the skill to make it work again. Some are annoyed at the severely limited functionality, like maybe being able to use voice commands to stop, start, skip ahead or skip back a few minutes while watching streaming video, but having no voice commands to bring up the program guide, skip to the next episode of a series, or reliably search for specific content.

Some reviewers complain that only the latest-model hardware is compatible with the skill, shutting most consumers out of Alexa functionality and often not being clear upfront about which hardware is supported and which is not. Some reviewers cite hassle-filled setup they couldn’t get to work. Others say the skill only works intermittently, or only with very specific voice commands or a very specific sequence of voice commands.

Consider this excerpt from a positive (5-star!) review of the Frontier Communications skill:

…sometimes…Alexa will try to use your Frontier-intended command on some other item such as Spotify or FireTV which also have play/stop/overlapping functionality. Try the following…first speak the command “Alexa, search for Curb Your Enthusiasm”–this will either activate the search on Frontier or Alexa will say it can do this command for both Frontier and some other item such as FireTV (obviously tell Alexa that you want it to use “Frontier” at this time…so it will funnel all subsequent commands correctly to Frontier…as long as you issue a Frontier-related command every ?15-30? minutes…if you don’t do this, Alexa loses the context eventually and it can’t tell if you want to, for example, “skip ahead” on Frontier/Spotify/Fire TV or whatever else you’ve got installed!)

Every other TV-related skill I’ve looked at has similar customer experiences laid out in the reviews. If your goal with Alexa controls for TV is added convenience and time saving, the Alexa TV control skills currently available probably won’t deliver. If you’re just happy to have this type of futuristic tech available to you at all, then you probably won’t mind all the inconvenience of using it.

Alexa On Fire TV
The experience on Fire TV is not so very different from the functionality Amazon originally provided with its first, non-Alexa voice remote in terms of commands available for video lookup and playback control, but in my experience voice commands have become less reliable since the Alexa integration—and unless you’re trying to issue TV commands through another Alexa device like an Echo, you still need a voice remote to use Alexa TV control commands so it’s not saving you so much time or effort compared to using your regular remote.

There are the standard play/pause/stop/skip playback commands you’d expect, plus the ability to look up programs by title, cast, genre or keywords, but in my experience Alexa voice control reliability on my Fire TV stick is so spotty I never even attempt it anymore. Sometimes the blue “listening” line displays but Alexa doesn’t respond at all. Sometimes Alexa doesn’t understand the command. Sometimes Alexa launches the wrong program. All in all, it’s just more hassle than it’s worth to me.

As for trying to control TV playback via Alexa commands issued to another Alexa device instead of the Fire TV remote, command clashes with other available services are frequent and frustrating. As the review excerpt above describes, Alexa will often attempt to carry out your command on some other available device or service. If you’ve got a Fire TV device and you’ve enabled a TV-control skill, you’ll probably find yourself spending more time trying to get the voice command exactly right for Alexa to do what you want on the service or device you want than you would’ve spent just switching the A/V input and issuing commands from your old-school remote control.

Bottom Line: Not Quite Ready For Primetime
I believe Alexa voice control of television sets, streaming devices and set-top boxes will get much better, and eventually get to the level of functionality most consumers have in mind when they say they want to use Alexa to control their TVs. But it’s not nearly there yet, and I think the best solutions will eventually involve new hardware with Alexa built into the TV, cable box or streaming device instead of relying on an Alexa skill. If you still want to give it a try:

Click here for the Alexa on Amazon Fire TV help topic on Amazon’s US site. Click here for the same topic on the UK site.

Click here for the Use Alexa to Control Your TV or Video Service help topic on Amazon’s US site.

Enjoy your Alexa devices, and be sure to come back here to follow the rest of this Alexa FAQ series.
I’ll be continuing the series with posts providing a look at the various Alexa devices and gadgets now available as well as the differences among them, the basics of the Alexa Flash Briefing, Alexa calendar integration, and a sort of catch-all mailbag FAQ at the end that will include resource links for Alexa-oriented consumer groups online.

Click here to subscribe, so you’ll be notified when each new post is published. You’ll also want to bookmark any posts in the series you might need to refer to frequently in the future, and use the handy social media links at the bottom of this post to share with others who’ve received (or you know will be receiving!) Alexa devices.

Click here to read part 1, Alexa Basics For Those Giving or Getting An Alexa Device.

Click here to read part 2, Six Things To Try With Alexa.

Click here to read part 3, Alexa With WiFi & Bluetooth.

Click here to read part 4, Alexa Privacy and Security.

Click here to read part 5, Alexa Music Commands and Services.

Click here to read part 6, Alexa Calling and Messaging.

Click here to read part 7, An Alexa Intercom System with Alexa Drop-In.

Click here to read part 8, Alexa Alarms, Reminders and Timers.

Click here to read part 10, Alexa Flash Briefing

Click here to read part 11, Alexa Calendar Integration

Click here to read part 12, Comparing Alexa Devices.

Click here to read part 13, Alexa FAQ Conclusion: Mailbag, Alexa Communities.