Intel viewer-tracking smart TV in 2012 say media execs

Intel is planning a smart TV platform to rival cable and satellite providers, it's claimed, hoping to lure subscribers with cheaper content while using viewer-identification tech to better target advertising. The project has been mired in negotiations for months, according to Reuters' sources, with the promise of set-top boxes that can track the age group and gender of the people watching – thus allowing demographically-suited adverts to be shown – apparently not yet sufficient to persuade content owners to free up channels from traditional providers.

The problem Intel faces, it's said, is the same as supposedly scuppered Apple's original plans to launch a cable-rival service. Currently, content owners sell broad packages of shows to cable and satellite providers, refusing to unbundle as it would mean less money overall. "Why would I want you to take subscribers away from another distributor at a lower price?" one unnamed media executive commented.

Nonetheless, Intel is apparently still pushing for a launch of its video service by the end of the year, though a November window is said to be unlikely to be met. It's counting on a combination of industry stalwarts to negotiate and a complex advertising system to persuade partners where others have failed, bringing in ex-Microsoft and BBC media exec Erik Huggers as head of Intel Media, and former BBC Worldwide America chief (and NBC, FOX and Disney alumnus) Garth Ancier as adviser.

The ad system they're selling as a primary advantage for Intel Media uses viewer identification systems, based on the sort of face-recognition that has appeared in Intel-powered notebooks. For smart TV, the technology wouldn't identify individuals – unlike, say, Samsung's high-end HDTVs - but instead make a broader demographic assessment on age, gender and other factors. That data, Intel is apparently arguing, is far more useful than the traditional Nielsen ratings, and would allow for specific commercials to be shown, perhaps even adjusting dynamically rather than simply being themed to the sort of viewer networks expect to be interested in each show.

Such an ambitious scheme has been met with skepticism, it's said. "They've told us the technology is going to be so much more interactive with ads that you can make more money" one executive said of Intel's promises. "But it's just a little unproven."

The Intel Media group was established after the chip company axed its original smart TV plans, killing off its dedicated TV chipsets as customers such as Google TV shifted instead to cheaper, more efficient alternatives based on ARM technology. Although details of the processors inside Intel's current smart TV prototypes have not been revealed, it's more than likely that they'll include WiDi wireless display support thanks to a deal earlier this year between the company and various media chipset firms.