Some 29 stories above the streets of Seattle, in a faux living room with a picture-perfect view of the Space Needle, Amazon managers were demonstrating technology to answer some of life’s biggest questions, including a query that plagues TV viewers the world over: “I know I recognize that actor — what other shows have I seen that person in?!”
If you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber and haven’t discovered it already, the company now offers its X-Ray feature on shows and movies numbering, according to the notoriously secretive company, “in the tens of thousands.” X-Ray displays photos of actors along the side of the screen, linking to their bios and filmographies. The service can include soundtrack info, trivia and behind-the-scenes clips and interviews.
X-Ray is available in more than 200 countries and territories. It’s mostly shown in English, with plans to expand into other languages.
This week, Amazon released a roundup of the most popular TV shows and movies during which viewers worldwide launched the X-Ray feature, which began running on TV shows 5 years ago.
For TV series in 2018, the eclectic mix of X-Ray winners are “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Psych,” car enthusiasts’ “The Grand Tour,” “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan” and “Vikings.” In the movie category, the similarly head-scratching and often unfamiliar top five are “Baywatch,” “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back,” “Transformers: The Last Knight,” “Twilight” and “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.”
This September, Amazon launched a partnership with NFL to bring real-time stats and a scrolling list of plays to Thursday Night Football. A menu of information options — as well as a tab to buy team merchandise — displays to the right of a screen showing the game.
When pressing questions arise, “it may be OK for you to pause a movie and get an answer,” said Brandon Love, senior program manager for Prime Video X-Ray. “But for a game, you may not have the option to pause or you may miss something and get behind.”
One can easily imagine this sort of up-to-the-minute trivia applied to an awards show like the Oscars or even election returns, but again, Amazon officials deflected a question about whether that expansion is coming anytime soon.
The X-Ray feature is possible in part thanks to Amazon’s purchase of IMDb, the widely used Internet Movie Database, some 20 years ago. The layers of information added to shows and movies is done through a combination of machine learning and manual work.
About a dozen floors below the derivatively hip demo living room, the real work is being done, pairing relevant data with the shows. Facts about actors, music and trivia are edited and perfectly synchronized to display at the right time in the program, down to 1/10th of a second. Employees called “time coders” zip through programs, watching them 3-4 times faster than regular viewing speeds.
It might be a dream job for a TV junkie, but it does mess with one’s ability to watch movies and shows off the clock.
“Watching stuff at home, I want to fast forward through all the tension. Or watching something scary, I’m like, I don’t need to deal with 10 seconds of the ‘jump scare,’ let’s just get through this,” said Colby Wood, a catalogue specialist for X-Ray. “It’s frustrating.”
“Sitting in the theater is really difficult now, too,” said Erynne Hundley, also a catalogue specialist. “You’re just like wow, they talk really slow in real life.”