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Chipmakers Hope Widgets Bring the Web to TV

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chumby_logo_text90Broadcom (s BRCM) said today that it would make sure content from Chumby, a nascent widget syndication effort for televisions, would run on its chips. It’s one of a handful of integration deals Broadcom has inked with software vendors to port their content to its chips. As broadband reaches more devices, deals between chipmakers and software vendors like these are becoming increasingly important.

For anyone who recalls the Chumby as a countertop device for accessing widgets, you’re thinking of the right company. It’s merely joining a growing pack of those looking expand its efforts beyond hardware to become a platform. In January it signed a similar integration deal with Marvell (s MRVL) to get its widget platform onto digital picture frames.

Such heightened integration efforts are a natural outgrowth of adding broadband to phones, TVs, set-top boxes or even picture frames, because when you add broadband, you add the Internet. And as the mobile world has shown, no one wants a bastardized version of a “mobile web” or a “TV web;” they want the real deal. So that means the chips powering these devices need to be smarter, and have the right software to deliver a web-like experience on a screen that doesn’t belong to the PC.

Other examples on the TV side include Intel (s intc) teaming up with Yahoo (s YHOO) to deliver Yahoo’s television widget platform on the chip giant’s semiconductors for set-top boxes. Sigma Designs, a competitor in the digital television space, also has a deal to port Flash Lite properly to its chips. Broadcom does, too.

With that in mind, Broadcom’s decision to add Chumby is a nice way for the platform to gain traction in TVs or in set-top boxes, because it won’t have to go to each television maker to get integrated into the device (though notably the TV makers can disable the Chumby integration on their Broadcom chips if they feel like it).

Shriraj Gaglani, a senior director of business development for Broadcom, also thinks Chumby will get consumers psyched about accessing the web through their TVs. He likens the Chumby platform to a cell phone’s application store and says, “What we’ve felt we lacked in the ecosystem is the critical mass of apps and services that can leverage broadband televisions.”

I’m not sure if an App Store-like option will make the difference given that most consumers in the U.S. get their TV programming and set-top boxes from a cable provider that may disable such functionality. Broadcom has integrated other platforms on its DTV and set-top box chips but cannot disclose them. When I asked if Broadcom was integrating any platforms built by MSOs or carriers into its chips, Gaglani declined to discuss it.

Aside from making a bet on delivering the web to televisions, this deal underlies the prominence of Adobe’s Flash platform for viewing video online. When asked if Broadcom has any integration deals with Microsoft’s (s MSFT) Silverlight platform (a competitor to Flash), Gaglani said, “We don’t have anything to announce on that.”

11 Responses to “Chipmakers Hope Widgets Bring the Web to TV”

  1. Stacey Higginbotham

    Jesse, given that some new STBs deployments have been delayed by the crappy economy, you may be right that they might push out products with this type of functionality. I never know what MSOs are going to do. They want to push broadband, but at the same time have ad revenue to protect from their video biz as well figuring out how to keep the content providers they currently pay from going straight to the consumer.

  2. Jesse Kopelman

    “given that most consumers in the U.S. get their TV programming and set-top boxes from a cable provider that may disable such functionality”

    This is the key issue. Stacey, have you done any research into whether MSOs (both cable and telcos with TV services) plan to support this sort of thing? I actually think they will allow it, as it makes the broadband bundling all the more compelling and doesn’t seem to involve any rights issues that would get them into trouble with their content suppliers. I would expect there will be a fight over whether they are entitled to a cut of revenue from any sort of App Store. Another issue is the slow dissemination of new STB throughout the customer base. MSOs usually only upgrade the box at customer request — usually to support some new paid feature (HD, DVR, etc.). Even if they are totally ambivalent to this technology, it could easily take 5 years to spread to a significant portion of the customer base. I’d think Internet support in the display devices might actually spread faster given we are still relatively early in the replacement cycle to enable HD.

  3. Well, chip makers are probably hoping that something, anything, will help them push chips ! The real question is : Would you want to mix pleasure with productivity? Because a TV is about entertainment and laid-back viewing while widgets is about multitasking and productivity. Let’s not get distracted by the rate of acceptance of technology push in mobile phones – because phones are not meant to be entertainment devices. If phones offer productivity apps, that is not unexpected. If they offer entertainment options, that is welcome bonus. However, a TV is a another animal. It is not a “personal” device. Also, lying 10ft away, it is a bit too far to do productivity. In fact, a TV is always closer to a beer than it is to “productivity internet”. Given this, Netflix on TV makes sense – because it is about using the internet for TV. Widgets, unfortunately, seem to have exactly the opposite interest (TV for internet). Yes, everyone is doing widgets, but the question is will anyone make money from them. Don’t bother checking Yahoo! for answers.

  4. I posted about some of the logical applications some time back in a post called:

    Wall Widgets: Fixed Wireless at Home

    Here’s an excerpt: Imagine a device called a ‘wall widget’ that functions as a piece of art in your living room or on your office wall. It can receive and play information feeds, photos and/or video streams, albeit in a wall-mountable form factor. I call it a wall widget because it leverages Wi-Fi connectivity, is service-aware, and is manageable by non-technical users. By manageable, I mean that by making template-driven decisions, consumers can remotely ‘program’ information or media flows handled by the wall widget to meet their experiential needs.

    Check out the full post if interested.