Earlier this week Intel announced what we'd heard rumors of in months past, that it would be creating an IPTV service along with a custom software and hardware platform to deliver it direct to consumers. A few hours after the announcement, I had the opportunity to speak with Erik Huggers, formerly of the BBC and currently heading up Intel's new Media division.

For years Intel has tried to grab a slice of the TV business. Remember the Intel CE series of Atom based SoCs? How about Sandy Bridge's Intel Insider technology? Both of these were focused attempts to solve problems within the TV industry, but both ultimately went no where. Intel's solutions thus far have been too narrow in scope to do anything.
The TV today reminds me a lot of smartphones in the early 2000s. There's tons of potential, but largely ruined by slow hardware, kludgy user interfaces and heavy fragmentation both on the content side and on the cross platform compatibility side. Much like the smartphone, the solution to revolutionizing the TV as a platform is unlikely to come from within the existing market. And just like the smartphone revolution, a disruptive solution here may very well come from a computing company.

What Is It?

At a high level Intel's unnamed TV play seems to work like this. Intel negotiates deals with content providers, said content lives on a server farm somewhere (likely running tons of Xeons courtesy of mother Intel). Using a box that Intel will sell you, you'll get access to this content over the Internet. The box will run an OS and software layer both developed by Intel. The content will include live TV, traditionally only available via a cable TV subscription. The box Intel will sell you won't act as a traditional PVR/DVR, instead you'll be able to activate a catch-up feature to pull down older episodes after they air, as well as live TV. How far back you'll be able to catch up will depend on the content license, it's technically feasible to go back as far as you'd like - but not all content owners will allow it. Intel's service will also include video on demand features to fill this gap. The goal is to provide one platform where you can get access to everything: live TV, episodes/content that have already aired, and even older content through VoD.
The content will be bundled together in some form. This isn't a purely á la carte TV service, but rather bundles put together by Intel Media rather than your cable company. Think cable channel/network bundling, but perhaps more granular than you're used to. Simply offering the same bundles at the same price as your cable company won't work, so I suspect the bundles will have to be more user friendly (more sensible, smaller, etc…).

ATI's OCUR CableCard Tuner for PCs, another failed solution to the problem from 7 years ago

Intel doesn't seem to have any intentions of keeping the content exclusive to this one box either. Erik wants to see this content on Ultrabooks, smartphones and tablets as well as on your TV. It sounds a lot like the holy grail of digital convergence: any content, on any device, anywhere. Netflix was really one of the first to achieve this level of ubiquity, but only really for older content. Intel seems to want to do this with live TV.
Intel isn't talking about bitrates or codecs yet, nor is it disclosing what content providers have already signed up for the service. The platform will launch this year and it'll be immediately apparent whether or not Intel is on the right track after that happens. 
Pricing is also unknown at this point. Erik was careful not to brand Intel's TV service as a value play, implying that you may not actually save any money vs. your current cable provider. It's pretty obvious from the start though that Intel can't just offer a better experience than your cable TV provider, it also has to offer a cost competitive platform as well. 
The Backstory: Why Get into the TV Business?
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  • new-paradigm - Thursday, February 14, 2013 - link

    Ok, so I can understand how dvr is based on having live tv channels and a tuner.

    Whilst the omission of both dvr and tuner functionality may be fine for the US, where the tv market is pretty much only catered for by payed for cable services, over here in the uk, and many other parts of the world, there are actually very good freeview broadcasting services and channels.

    I think the lack of dvr and tuner functionality would be a big factor in its success in these markets.

    Personally the only reason I haven't plumped for a roku or similar, and am now looking to build a media center pc is because I want the dvr and tuner functionality as well as the catch-up and streaming internet based tv services.
  • new-paradigm - Thursday, February 14, 2013 - link

    For example... in the uk this will be competing with youview (http://www.youview.com/), a free dvr and catch up initiative, which has boxes on offer from nearly all major internet and tv providers, as well as stand alone boxes. This works with the freeview tv channels (about 70) which a lot of people have instead of paying for cable or sky.
  • Exodite - Thursday, February 14, 2013 - link

    Somehow I can't help but think than any development along this line is going to end up being stillborn.

    Not because of content, or rather content /owner/, issues but rather by being too little too late.

    There's already YouTube, Google is currently monetizing the platform and I can only see services like that being the real future of television.

    The Internet and the WWW is a marvelous thing, we really don't need a new delivery system for a dying media platform when we already have something better.
  • new-paradigm - Thursday, February 14, 2013 - link

    I don't really see this as a new delivery system, merely an extension of the internet system and getting more content on to it... in the uk this is already happening as various mainstream channels start to make their content available through their own web based portals (iplayer, 4OD, etc)
  • Midwayman - Thursday, February 14, 2013 - link

    The media companies have repeatedly shut down previous attempts to get streaming media to the TV. Even streaming content they already offer on the web. They want eyeballs on adds and the whole industry has a titanic amount of inertia. They don't want to change their business model. Honestly Amazon or Netflix have a better chance of forcing it on them by producing original content that is only available streaming. If they take off as 'must have' channels and refuse to be bundled into cable they media companies might have to follow suit.
  • CSMR - Thursday, February 14, 2013 - link

    What is the current wholesale cost of downloading a GB?
    That will determine whether IPTV is successful.
  • fteoath64 - Saturday, February 16, 2013 - link

    It is not the cost in terms of money for downloads. It is the time delay wasted DOING IT so there is no interest from users. No instant gratification!. Click Buy and it plays right away!. If you have to wait, you might not bother!. If anyone subscribe to IPTV, they will be given a fat pipe period. Now how fat the internet pipe depends on the provider. They will restrict the bandwidth based on current pricing levels.

    IPTV can be successful only if people pay a fixed tier of bundle based on how much they use. A bit like cable-premiums channels now but if a user did not use much, he might just pay the minimum amount rather than a fixed premium every month. The old model habit is hard to die but usage based is the fairest of all, yet providers are not really doing it.
  • tcitrus - Thursday, February 14, 2013 - link

    I love Intel. I understand the concept. But what why would I change my current TV set up for Intel's box? I already have Playstation 3 with apps such as Hulu, Youtube, Crackle, and it is a blue ray player. I have Roku, which is very small and portable. On top of all that I have a Dish Network w/ DVR and includes Blockbuster. Why get another box? Convince me why I should switch.
  • This Guy - Thursday, February 14, 2013 - link

    I'ld like the ability to run steam on it. If their OS is a derivative of their linux work this might be possible.

    I'ld like instant on and ssd like speed for the OS, settings and user data.

    I would like the UI to minimise upsells to a small and consistant part of the screen. The UI should focus on my content and make it eaiser for me to view/use it.

    I would love for Intel to get global content licences. I live in Australia where media is vastly overpriced. Many smaller markets have it far worse.
  • Concillian - Thursday, February 14, 2013 - link

    The biggest problem faced with getting into TV is that the media companies own the pipes. They already restrict access in an effort to keep people from cutting the cord (very difficult to stream sporting events without buying a very expensive package, for example.)

    It doesn't matter what the hardware looks like. The block is getting the people who own the cable companies to give up their $100+ bundling strategy that is currently working and working well to milk the average consumer.

    Until we have viable broadband options that are NOT TV providers, I don't see this changing. Hardware doesn't matter. The whole landscape of big media needs major changes before anything like this can become viable.

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