Amazon is getting rid of its celebrity voices for Alexa. Not only are the voices of Samuel L. Jackson, Shaquille O’Neal, and Melisssa McCarthy no longer available for purchase, but Amazon will also stop supporting them on Alexa devices as well.
The voices were fairly cheap, with a $0.99 price at launch before moving up to $4.99, but many users expected to have access for longer than this. The feature, which adds the personality of one of the three celebrities to an Alexa device, lets you use the “Hey [celebrity name]” command to ask questions, hear jokes, or listen to a story — all in the style of Jackson, Shaq, or McCarthy. But now, some of that fun has come to an end, as the voice of Jackson will soon stop working on customers’ devices.
“After three years, we’re winding down celebrity voices,” Amazon spokesperson Eric Sveum says in a statement to The Verge. “Customers will be able to continue using these voices for a limited time, and can contact our customer service team for a refund.”
A note on Jackson’s page states: “Samuel L. Jackson’s Alexa voice is no longer available for purchase. Customers who previously purchased the experience may continue to use the skill until April 2023 by saying ‘Hey Samuel.’” Despite this, Sveum tells The Verge that users will be able to hear Jackson’s voice through June 7th. Amazon posted similar messages on the pages for McCarthy and Shaq’s voices but says it will continue to support them until September 30th of this year.
Amazon first started offering Jackson’s voice in 2019, which uses Amazon’s neural text-to-speech model to generate fun (and sometimes explicit) responses rather than rely on prerecorded ones, and later introduced the voices of McCarthy and Shaq in 2021. The three voices are a bit limited in what they can respond to, however, as they don’t work with shopping lists, reminders, or skills.
It’s not exactly clear why Amazon has decided to discontinue the feature, but it could be a sign of broader Amazon’s broader Alexa woes. Last November, a report from The Wall Street Journal revealed that Amazon CEO Andy Jassy heavily scrutinized the company’s Alexa sector, as its operating losses exceeded $5 million in recent years. The company also announced layoffs affecting 18,000 employees earlier this year, with Amazon hardware chief Dave Limp telling CNBC that 2,000 of those cuts affected workers in his division, which is in charge of Alexa and Echo products.
Meanwhile, a recent report from Insider suggests that the company has plans to rework Alexa amidst the rise of ChatGPT and may use its own large language model (LLM) to make Alexa “more proactive and conversational.” Perhaps Alexa’s celebrity voices don’t fit into this vision, or maybe they’ve just become too costly to license.
Update May 30th, 3:44PM ET: Updated to add a statement from an Amazon spokesperson and to note that Jackson’s voice will be discontinued after June 7th.