Amazon taps Getty to provide images for visual searches on the Echo Show and Echo Spot

On the heels of the Getty family regaining control of Getty Images, reportedly for about $3 billion, the company is announcing a move to expand use of its images to a wider set of eyeballs. It will now work with Amazon to provide images from its catalog of 200 million digital images to populate searches on its screen-based Echo Show and Echo Spot devices.

The deal also comes amid rumors of a supposed launch of a screen-based Google Home device (made by the king of search, Google) to compete with the Echo Show, ahead of the holiday season.

An Amazon spokesperson told TechCrunch that the Getty images will only come up in Amazon’s search service for now, meaning that those building skills for the Echo devices will not be able to tap the Getty catalog.

As Getty describes it, the images will appear to enhance how Alexa — Amazon’s AI-based assistant — responds to users’ queries “to shape the visual style of Alexa.”

“Our premier collection of editorial, creative and archival content is a natural fit for Amazon’s Echo products, bringing best-in-class visuals to Echo users,” said Peter Orlowsky, SVP of strategic development, Getty Images, in a statement. “We are honored to unite with Echo’s screen-based products and to use our deep library of content to give Alexa her best look yet.”

Searches will include both current affairs as well as general knowledge. (Some examples Getty gives: pictures of the winners from the Academy Awards as an answer to “who won”; pictures of cities in answer to “What’s the capital of this or that country”; pictures of a recent touchdown or football goal; and so on.)

The deal is an interesting move for a few reasons. For Amazon, it will give the company a much wider, premium catalog of images to compel people to use (and buy!) the Echo Show and Echo Spot either in addition to or even instead of the lower-priced audio-only echo devices. Currently Amazon sources pictures from Bing and Wikipedia for its image-based search responses.

Last year after the Echo Show launched, there was some early criticism that there weren’t enough compelling Skills (Echo apps) being built for the screen-based device. While there are more of these Skills now, the voice-based Echo speakers continue to be the company’s mainstay product — even if it appears that Google Home sales have more recently outpaced those of the Echo — and so this could potentially help Amazon find its feet and sales groove with the screen-based products.

There is also an interesting play here in terms of how Amazon hopes to get an early advance on visual search and establishing a stronger basic app for it for its devices. A year ago, we reported that Google was working on a screen-based Home competitor to the Echo Show, and now reports say that this is likely to make an appearance before the holidays this year.

That means there is a very strong case for Amazon to get its own product in order and looking a little more impressive before Google — a search giant first and foremost — steals a march.

On the side of Getty, the company has for years been trying out different ideas to generate revenues from its vast image catalog. Many of these haven’t really panned out — as evidenced by the fact that the Getty family picked up an asset for $3 billion from an owner that had paid $3.3 billion for it — but the sheer numbers associated with the business — over 300 million images, 200 million digitised — also indicate that there is an inherent value as well.

This, in effect, gives Getty a shot (sorry for the pun) at providing another way of making its assets relevant and valuable, as a lever to help Amazon compete against the mighty Google.

It’s notable to me that the press release had no statement directly from Amazon in it. I’ve asked Amazon for a comment, but as you can see from other integrations — such as last week’s news from Mapillary — sometimes Amazon prefers to remain a silent partner in its collaborations in order to keep its feature and product cards close to its collective chest.