HBO Creates Their Second Alexa Skill, This One is for Kids


HBO’s animated children’s show, Esme & Roy, debuted in August and is the first new animated series from the makers of Sesame Street in more than a decade. To promote the new show, HBO is releasing an Alexa Skill, called ‘Esme & Roy,’ that is an adventure game. Kids are able to pick different adventures for Esme, who is a “monster-sitter,” with her friend Roy, a giant yellow monster. The Skill description says it is meant for kids ages 3+, and will:

Take your kids on pretend play adventures from the moon to a hot air balloon, encouraging children to move their bodies and use their imaginations to join the fun! And if your little monster ever is in need of a mindful moment, you can ask Esme and Roy for the calm down song at any time.

Kids can choose from one of five different adventures: Underwater, Outer Space, Circus, Sky, and Jungle. As an example of one excursion, the “Sky,” characters Esme & Roy will be preparing to take off in a hot air balloon, prompting users to shout out colors or objects they can spot from the sky.

Focus on Emotional Development

The show itself is tailored for kids aged 4-6 and is promoted on HBO’s website as focusing on helping children develop healthy responses to their emotions. The Alexa Skill promotional trailer includes “be mindful & calm down” as a part of what the skill can offer children. HBO also stated that having a voice-only application was an advantage to promoting emotional development, in addition to helping cut down on “the screen-time dilemma that we all face as parents.”

This past Summer HBO released their first Alexa Skill, called Westworld: The Maze, in anticipation of the Westworld season finale. It is a voice-driven adventure game that confirms the media’s shift to viewing voice as a promotion and engagement channel. While The Maze was trivia based, and more of a reward for loyal viewers. By contrast, the Esme & Roy skill seems to be another platform for HBO content. A platform that may even align with Alexa’s focus on health and wellness. For example:

Alexa, ask Esme and Roy for the Calm Down Song

In May, CNBC reported Amazon had established a health and wellness team inside of the Alexa organization. Then in October, Amazon filed a patent with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office related to detecting the physical and emotional wellbeing of users based on interactions captured in voice data. It may be possible that Alexa views this ‘Esme & Roy’ Alexa skill as an opportunity for their health & wellness initiatives in addition to supporting the company’s focus on adding child-friendly content to the platform.

HBO Plans for More in the Future

HBO is clearly interested in the smart speaker audience Alexa has amassed. Beyond Westwords and Esme & Roy, Sabrina Caluori, SVP of digital and social media at HBO, says,

We’re also thinking about what an HBO brand-level experience could look like on these devices. At this point, anything’s possible.

While HBO did receive outside help from those who had developed the “Westworld” skill, it was mainly in consulting roles this time around. Agency 360i wrote the dialogue and coded the ‘Westworld’ skill, but not this time. Most of the dialogue was written by the Sesame Workshop, and bugs were corrected by the conversation design studio, Xandra. Currently in the process of growing their own in-house voice capabilities, HBO has been recruiting and training people to both create and update applications. Caluori has also stated, “we think [voice is] going to be an important growing space.” We will most likely be seeing more HBO Alexa Skills in the future, perhaps even developed by HBO with an in-house team.

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