The latest round of Fire TV and Fire TV Stick software updates have addressed more customer complaints than ever before. Yet, Netflix voice search integration, which has long been one of the most requested features, is still missing from Amazon’s line of streaming media devices. Since the Fire TV’s release one year ago, we’ve seen voice search, its most advertised feature, expand to include additional sources like Showtime and Crackle. Why then is Netflix, the world’s leading internet media streaming service, still missing from the list of supported services? Is Amazon deliberately keeping its biggest streaming media competitor out of the spotlight, or is Netflix making the Fire TV less attractive to its customers on purpose? Here are the facts for you to decide.
In order for a third-party streaming media service like Netflix to integrate into the Fire TV’s voice search, the service must do two things. First, they must create a catalog file which lists all the movies and shows they offer and upload the file to Amazon’s servers. And second, they must modify their Fire TV app to accept special commands that allow the Fire TV to directly start playing a video within the app. Amazon uses the catalog file to determine which movies and shows to include in the Fire TV’s search results and uses the special commands to seamlessly start playing the video when it’s selected from a search result. Amazon provides detailed documentation on precisely how to create the catalog file and how to integrate media apps with the Fire TV interface.
On a side note, it’s this server-side catalog requirement which prevents apps like Plex and Kodi from ever integrating with the Fire TV’s voice search. Since the media available within those apps is unique to each user, they can’t be included in the Fire TV’s search results without an overhaul of how search is handled on the Fire TV.
“We expect to support [Fire TV] voice search later this year.”-Reed Hastings, Netflix CEOApril 2014
The Fire TV’s voice search integration requirements and process have been in place since the Fire TV launched. That’s probably what prompted Netflix’s CEO, Reed Hastings, to tell shareholders “we expect to support voice search later this year” when speaking about the Fire TV a few weeks after it was released. It’s nearly a quarter into the following year and we still don’t have Netflix search integration. It seems like the ball is in Netflix’s court but they’ve shown a lack of interest with the Fire TV in the past. When Netflix simultaneously overhauled their Android, iOS, Roku, and Apple TV apps, it took four months for the same update to come to the Fire TV.
While it may seem like Netflix’s move, Fire TV search integration isn’t entirely an automated process. Amazon states that “to complete your catalog integration with our platform, please contact us for further information.” There could be hidden hurdles complicating the seemingly smooth search integration process. Additionally, Amazon could be criticized for not taking the initiative to bring Netflix search integration to the Fire TV themselves. Roku just launched a new voice search feature which does include Netflix results as well as several other services not integrated into the Fire TV’s search. I can only assume Roku achieved this feat by taking it upon themselves to catalog Netflix’s content, instead of Amazon’s approach of leaving it up to Netflix.
It’s easy to come up with conspiracy theories about how each company is deliberately holding the other back, but the truth is we just don’t know the real reason. If you ask me, I think it’s a simple case of each company not feeling like they need the other one enough to put in the effort for Netflix search integration on the Amazon Fire TV.