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Summary:

Intel has been super-secretive about its TV service until this week, but the service is already been tested in hundreds of homes.

intel media logo

Intel may only have fessed up to building its own TV service this week, but the offering is already being tested by several hundred employees of the company. Intel Media boss Erik Huggers, whose unit is in charge of the service, told me on the sidelines of the Dive into Media conference in Dana Point, California this week that the friends and family test began in recent weeks, and that it was one of the reasons for breaking his silence on the project now.

Huggers said on stage at the conference Tuesday that his company is building a set-top box that will be fueled by a service that combines live TV, video on demand and a catch-up component  similar to the BBC’s iPlayer. U.K. viewers can use the iPlayer to watch anything that aired on the BBC within the last week, and Huggers was in charge of launching the project for the broadcaster. “American audiences have not yet experienced a proper catch-up service,” he told me.

Intel Media is preparing to launch the service in the U.S. before the end of the year through a mix of retail partnerships and direct sales to consumers. A lot of details are still under wraps, including the name of the service, the exact programming available, as well as its eventual price. However, Huggers said on Tuesday that his goal was neither complete unbundling nor undercutting cable. “We are not a value play,” he said, adding: “We are a quality play.” During his on-stage appearance at the conference, he suggested that Intel is working with “the entire industry” to bring live TV content to the service, but it’s unclear how advanced these negotiations are.

There was some backlash Tuesday about Intel’s announcement, namely that the device would come with a camera that would be able to identify viewers and service personalized ads. In talking to me, Huggers tried to put it in perspective by comparing it to other consumer electronics products, asking: “How many millions of homes have a Kinect device?” Of course, one could argue that people might be much less accepting of the Kinect if it was being used to identify individual users and relay that information to Microsoft.

Intel Media is run as an independent unit within Intel, overseen by a separate board, and many folks within Intel didn’t even know what the unit was up to until this week. That separation also included a lot of outside hires, and even some cooperation with small, external companies, as we first reported in January. “We are not following the playbook of Intel,” acknowledged Huggers during our interview. “We are trying to do something that is rather left field for Intel.”

This story was updated at 12:19 pm to clarify Intel’s content plans.

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  1. Can that camera be easily disabled? If so, no worries, better yet, make it so you have to turn on the camera to make it work.
    Otherwise it sounds a lot like big brother.

  2. I suspect the camera functionality can be disabled by the user for privacy reasons. Intel isn’t dumb.

    1. Why would any user want to have the camera operating? What does it do for the *user* (not for Intel) ?

      Intel may not be dumb but manufacturers have been known to intellectualize themselves into making products that the public rejects for very good reason. This whole Intel Media project sounds a little twisted to me.

  3. I was slightly less skeptical of Intel’s Media plans after watching the video of Erik but that was from an extremely skeptical starting point. Putting aside the camera issues, their overall approach to a virtual cable operator sounded pretty sensible but what a mountain they have to climb!

    Not only do they have to get the HW & SW right to deliver this fantastic UI he was banging on about, but also sign all the channel & content deals, launch an industry leading streaming platform, build a full customer care & billing capabilities, marketing, retail distribution, etc bloody etc And for what, how many households can they reasonable expect to convert before the other pay operators just upgrade and emulate the best of what Intel launches. If consumers warm to different shaped bundles, it’s will be trivial for the others to adapt and the latest generation of cable UI are not as bad as these senior guys seem to think.

    Additionally, it’s not an international play, because unfortunately much of TV is very national and all those channel deals will need to be painfully negotiated in every single country

    I reckon if Intel have lots of cash to burn, they should just acquire Netflix & use their platform to launch a virtual cable operator and potentially add on some sexy device for the living room

  4. Other STB manufacturers (with cameras) are looking at a camera sensors, with Image Cognition capabilities from Cognivue. This solution pre-processes the image and simply transmit the image metadata (gesture recognition, face detection, etc) back to the STB’s processor. This avenue removes the privacy concern since the actual video data is never stored or transmitted to the main processor.

    1. Even if the STB manufacturer assured me I would have privacy with their STB, there are two issues: I wouldn’t trust what they said, and what does their camera do *for me* as opposed to doing something for them?

    2. Odd that one would not be concerned about image metadata being sent to godknowswho. Your address and IP, the image geotag, number of objects, number of animate objects, gestures, face detection, clothing elements and personal accessories identified, etc… Egads! So, you and ten friends from church decide to watch a training video on gun carry certification… Then there is the knock on the door. OR you just get a bill rated for eleven viewers of that program, which would be pretty darned bad if that is all it means.

  5. Just put a kleenex box over the camera.

  6. A flop product waiting to be dropped into tech abyss…

    Intel will be firing this Erik shortly..

  7. Remember the gazillions Intel wasted on Viiv…do you even remember Viiv? The notion of a company as “dumb” or “smart” is irrelevant; those are traits of individuals not companies and it’s pretty silly to anthropomorpize a complex social entity like a company.

    That said, there’s an old vaudeville joke that really does seem apt here. How do you make a small fortune? Start with a large fortune.

  8. If they are not selling a game station which reacts to user input as does the Kinect, then the camera will be used for verification of users who are consuming content. It is likely that they have licensed with MS, if the news about MS’s patent of the technology is true. So your bill will be predicated on the number of “user hours” rather than, or in combination with, bandwidth or channels. Bend over………. it’s commin’.

  9. Why would anyone let their car insurance track their driving…..for a discount. That could work for intel. No camera = high price. Camera = discount.

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