Giving Voice to Smart Electronics

One of the biggest topics of conversation at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas was the prominence of voice assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Assistant, Apple’s Siri, Samsung’s Bixby, Roku’s Entertainment Assistant, and Microsoft’s Cortana.

Not only are such voice assistants associated with smart speakers (e.g., Amazon’s Echo or Google’s Home), which collectively saw a year-on-year sales increase of 279% in 2017, according to the Consumer Technology Association. They are also increasingly featured in voice-controlled TV sets, mirrors, refrigerators, thermostats, and other smart devices.

Not surprisingly, licensors are extending their IP into voice-enabled products of various types. For example:

  • Hasbro and Warner Bros. are among the property owners providing “skills” for the Echo and other Alexa-enabled devices. (Alexa is the market leader in digital voice assistants.) Hasbro and Amazon developed Trivial Pursuit Tap, an interactive version of the board game played using Alexa and the Echo, while Warner Bros. paired with Rain to develop Scooby-Doo! Mystery Inc. Theater, a conversational interactive storytelling program for Alexa-enabled products.
  • The NFL Players Association paired with StatMuse for an app that features player voices in a conversational interface. Fans can ask StatMuse for scores and other NFL stats and hear the answer from a favorite player. Current and former athletes involved, to date, range from Drew Brees and Clay Matthews to Peyton Manning and Jerry Rice.
  • Properties including The Simpsons, NASCAR, Sesame Street, Star Wars, and SpongeBob SquarePants have lent their voices over the years to GPS navigation services, which represented an early voice-related opportunity for licensors. In a burst of activity from 2010 to 2012, these deals allowed drivers to hear directions from their favorite characters or celebrities rather than from the default voice. More recently, to celebrate the release of the film Terminator Genisys in 2015, users of the navigation app Waze could receive their route from Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator, one of several voices Waze has featured.

It is likely that many additional licensing deals involving character and celebrity voices will be announced in the near future as more consumers purchase voice-enabled devices and increase their use of voice assistants and conversational apps on their phones.

In case you missed it, earlier this week Raugust Communications posted a story on a half dozen key retail trends of 2017. The article serves as a companion piece to our recap of 10 leading licensing trends of the last year.

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