Erik Huggers of Intel Media has confirmed that the chip company will be launching a consumer electronics product in 2013 that he says will transform television by offering “a vastly superior experience”. It will not only have Intel chips inside, it will have a camera, watching you as you watch. That might sound a little too much like Big Brother for some. The promise is of a better user interface and a more flexible approach to channel packages, but many have yet to be convinced.
Speaking at the D: Dive into Media conference in California, the vice president and general manager of Intel Media explained that he has been working for a year to set up a new group with people drawn from Apple, Microsoft, the BBC, Netflix and Google, to develop an internet television platform.
While all those players have had their sights set on this target, he said in his opinion no one has actually “cracked it”. Consciously or not, he recalled the phrase that the late Steve Jobs used to his biographer, when he described his hopes to create a television with the simplest user interface you could imagine, saying: “I finally cracked it.”
Apple has yet to transform television in the same way that they re-imagined the smartphone and the tablet, although there are many that expect them to do so. Some anticipate that will be in the form of a screen, to complement the Apple TV box that has so far remained something of a hobby for the company.
Intel is meanwhile working on its own box. “It is a consumer electronics product with beautiful industrial design powered by obviously an Intel chip,” Erik Huggers revealed. “This is an over the top service we will deliver both live television, broadcast, cable nets and other output, but also have catch-up television and introduce that properly into this market.”
He went on to explain catch-up television, for the benefit of the American audience. He joined Intel from the BBC, where he led the division responsible for the development of the BBC iPlayer, and has brought a lot of that thinking from that initiative, as well as some of the people with him, even borrowing the line that “the audience is at the heart of everything we do” for the back of their business cards.
Whereas the BBC iPlayer is a service that is available on over 650 different device models, this will be based on a single box, albeit under a yet to be revealed brand name, with Intel inside. He also hinted that he expected the service to be accessible through other devices.
Intel is preparing to launch the service in the United States before the end of 2013, through a mixture of direct sales and retail partnerships. It is not clear if any programming distribution deals have been signed, but apparently hundreds of Intel employees are already testing the system.
Those that hope that the box will break open the bundling of channels so beloved by media companies may be disappointed.
“I do believe there is value in bundles, if the bundles are done right,” he said. “I think there are opportunities to create a much more flexible environment. I don’t believe that the industry is ready for pure à la carte“.
It seems that Intel believes it can offer better bundles, but this is apparently not a value play, it is about providing a “vastly superior experience”. He said the box “learns about you — it cares about you”. It also watches what you while you watch, with a built in camera, to provide a more personal experience. Some people might find that a little creepy. There will be a shutter to close the camera if you want more privacy.
Intel has the resources to make a major play for the living room entertainment experience, even if it has had to bring in people from outside and borrow ideas to do so. It is not the first attempt that Intel has made to get into this market. The others did not go so well, but its new media executive clearly believes the time is right.
“We’ve taken a leap of faith that the time is here,” he said. “We have the silicon and software and the knowledge and the know how to create an incredible product with an incredible UI, with a new user paradigm. Rather than wait for others to jump into that market and see it take off, we’re jumping in.”
So if this is a virtual cable network, why build a box? “If we want to deliver the experience that we have in mind for the living room there is no platform out there today that can do that,” he explained. “In order to deliver on our vision of that new experience, you need to control everything, you need to control the chip, you need to control the operating system, you need to control the sensors”.
That is certainly an approach that Apple has successfully adopted. The question is whether Intel will beat Apple in this game and whether it can succeed in building a better box.
“If there was a platform out there where we could deliver exactly what we have in mind then we wouldn’t need to do it,” said the Intel executive, “but there isn’t”.
Many seem sceptical that Intel will prevail in its vision, largely because there is little incentive for media companies to see it succeed.