Intel pushes sofa monitoring with Web TV camera plans

Intel's freshly-revealed Web TV service will use advanced viewer monitoring systems, including a camera integrated into the set-top box to actively watch and identify those in front of the TV, to shape its service, the chip giant has confirmed. While the personalization system will have an optional shutter for those particularly camera-shy, new Intel Media chief Erik Huggers conceded, the on-demand project will nonetheless rely considerably on the viewer-tracking potential, helping advertisers craft more appropriate content and recommending more relevant shows depending on who's watching what.

Chatter of such a system broke last year, with Intel supposedly looking at categories like age and gender to split up its viewership. Using the same sort of face-identification technology as we've seen on ultrabooks as well as smart TVs from Samsung, the Intel system would provide content owners and advertisers with far more useful information as to who, exactly, was consuming their shows and commercials.

As Intel sees it, the current recommendations system services like Netflix use is too blunt to be particularly effective. That's because it works on a per-screen basis, not a per-viewer basis: everything watched by all users of a single Netflix account is combined to generate the newest suggestions, for instance, even if different members of the household have broadly different niches they individually prefer.

Intel's system, however, would be more precise in its targeting than that. By using the Web TV STB's in-built camera to watch the viewer as the viewer watches content, it can ascertain more accurate demographic details and tailor connected media to the right person at the right time.

Although the technology for individual identification exists, previous rumors around Intel's tracking implementation suggested it would take a broader-strokes approach than that. Rather than logging specific members of the household, the Intel-powered STB will merely look at general demographics – i.e. membership of certain age brackets, gender, etc. – that, though a step away from exact tracking, would still unlock considerably more data than the current viewership methods. However, Huggers did say that viewers would be able to use the camera to log into specific accounts, implying far more accurate identification.

Intel's eventual hope is that the extra information will encourage content owners to unbundle their collections of channels, something the industry has historically been reluctant to do. That won't be the case from day one, however. As Huggers said during AllThingsD's D: Dive Into Media conference this week, "there are opportunities to create a more flexible environment [but] I don't believe the industry's ready for unbundling."

Huggers also recognizes that Intel will face an uphill challenge trying to reassure viewers that a camera pointed out at them isn't a privacy issue, though the physical shutter to optionally turn off the feature should go some way to helping with that. The Intel Web TV system is expected to launch sometime in 2013.

[via The Register]