The Backstory: Why Get into the TV Business?

 
Erik presented his plans and got funding from mother Intel on December 8, 2011. In less than 12 months the Intel Media team had built all of the pieces of the puzzle. They'd built the streaming device, the OS, the web services infrastructure, the video infrastructure, everything. Erik told me that he'd never seen an organization move that fast in his career. To the objective outsider, this either means that Intel is putting a ton of support (think: cash) behind this project, or it's going to be half baked. Based on some of my own snooping, I don't think it's the latter. Which then begs the question, why was Intel so eager to go off and build an IPTV service and do all of this work? And why did it have to happen so quickly?
 
I didn't ask Erik the first question, although I think the answer is obvious. Intel's present success is very closely tied to the PC industry. It's trying to break into the established ARM smartphone and tablet industries to help go where the industry goes, but it does so as a late comer and is currently enjoying all of the struggles associated with that. The TV industry however hasn't really been revolutionized, and it's ripe for change.


The Boxee Box, one of many Intel powered solutions for the TV

We've seen high profile attempts to empower the big screen with devices like the Apple TV or Google TV. Smaller players have made similar attempts (e.g. Boxee Box, Roku). All of these boxes attempt to stream existing cloud based content to your TV, but they don't fundamentally replace a cable TV subscription. For some users, the content you can currently get on any one of these platforms is good enough to augment a cable TV subscription, while for others it's good enough to cut the cord entirely. For cord cutters, the gaps in content that remain are filled by content owner websites (e.g. southparkstudios.com) or through piracy. None of the existing platforms offer a universal solution for live TV either, you sort of have to hope that whoever is broadcasting whatever you want to watch in real time is kind enough to stream it - or you have to wait and watch it later.
 
The TV market today looks a lot like the smartphone market did not too long ago. There are established players, but no one is really doing it perfectly. There are good ideas, but no platform that unifies them all. Intel is interested in the TV market because it is a consumer facing business that's detached from the PC industry, and one that's ready for a revolution. Getting in early and generating revenue that's detached from PCs would help Intel grow its revenue base, diversify a bit and likely keep investors quite happy. The side benefits are obvious. Any solution here would need a fairly heavy cloud platform to drive it (you have to store, transcode and stream all of that content), plus if you really do pull off a good internet based TV strategy it simply drives usage of all other computing devices as you'd want to be able to stream/consume content on as many different screens as possible.
 
The "why do it?" question is an easy one to answer, but figuring out whether or not Intel can do it is a different one entirely. Intel certainly has the cash to pull off a dramatic play in the TV space. It also has the ability to customize silicon to put fears to rest of its TV solution being a giant pirate box. However, Intel hasn't traditionally done well in the consumer facing software/services department. 
 
Intel does a great job of building fast silicon, validating it and optimizing software for it, but when was the last time you saw Intel build a gorgeous UI? Even Intel's reference Ultrabooks don't really ooze confidence that the company knows how to build a real consumer device, software, service or experience. The skepticism here is understandable and warranted.
 
The only solace Intel can offer to the skeptics is the fact that Intel Media is staffed by a combination of Intel insiders as well as from others outside of the company. Erik naturally stressed hiring from Google, Apple and Netflix. Erik himself came from the BBC and admittedly isn't much of a chip-head to begin with. The proof will be in the pudding. Intel hasn't publicly demonstrated anything, it hasn't announced pricing or a channel lineup. With a product launch sometime in 2013, we won't have to wait long to see how this plays out.
What is it? What I'd Like to See
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  • sporkfan - Thursday, February 14, 2013 - link

    The whole point of a device like this is that it can be sold to Comcast or other regional cable providers. They can start w/ bundled access to 100% of their content, introduce a la carte offerings, and then reduce expenditure on new content once their a la carte back catalog becomes as attractive/lucrative as channel #450.

    Just like the iPhone didn't disrupt cell providers, this isn't disrupting Comcast. Intel probably isn't even demanding that they have an disintermediated relationship with the customer. Comcast has proven that no one is taking a penny from them.

    Same for Apple - they might be able to disintermediate, but if Apple ships a real TV product, assume it will only work with a $100/month service fee. And assume we will continue to have broadband monopolies in DSL and Cable.
    Reply
  • Azethoth - Thursday, February 14, 2013 - link

    I think you summed up what we as end users want. The small, exact set of channels of the shows we actually care to watch.

    I am using, or rather being used by, DirecTV at the moment.

    They force ridiculous bundles on me just so I get HD. I want to get more precise than the deluxe package but they do not let you do that at a cheaper rate, it actually costs more to get less.

    I have literally disabled 3/4 of all channels from showing up in my channel guide to reduce the clutter and it is still 90% useless channels.

    The cost benefit is so low that I have Zero customer loyalty. The very first person that succeeds at this, Apple, Google, Intel, whoever gets my business likely forever. Same way Apple likely has my mobile business forever, and definitely has my music business.
    Reply
  • pliablemoosethebanned - Thursday, February 14, 2013 - link

    I cut the cord years ago, sick of paying for content I never used.

    Current system is a hodgepodge of streaming, Apple TV and a Roku Box, with subs to Netflix, Hulu +, and Amazon Prime to a 1080p projector, an LCD TV and various laptops/tablets/phones.

    I would love an a la carte cable system, and am likely going to be building a HTPC again so I can catch OTA HDTV and DVR it.

    I do like having the option to price shop any content I do purchase, and either Apple or Amazon has cheaper prices on a season of a show I buy.

    Big cable is one of the most anti consumer services available, screw the $100/month cable bill.
    Reply
  • wsaenotsock - Thursday, February 14, 2013 - link

    So cable companies are just going to bend over and let Intel distribute all their content? Yeah right!!! Think about sports broadcast licensing and other live events. If cable companies let that go they are DEAD. This is not going to be an easy fight. I don't see the difference between Intel's device and any other streaming device. It doesn't even matter because it's all about the licensing. Reply
  • bathotropic - Thursday, February 14, 2013 - link

    "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."

    Seriously, if I can't go back as far as I WANT then I'm not interested. Obama-Care is bad enough, but Cable/IP-Care is shit unless they acknowledge that I have limits.
    Reply
  • jowaju2 - Thursday, February 14, 2013 - link

    If all you want is Comedy Central / History Channel / Food Network, Dish has the Welcome package for $14.99 a month, or $19.99 a month with local channels. Here's the info on it, they don't advertise it, but it's exactly what I wanted; http://www.dish.com/entertainment/packages/welcome... Reply
  • tackle70 - Thursday, February 14, 2013 - link

    Really enjoyed this read. I'm a cord cutter myself - my wife and I dropped a cable TV subscription for Netflix years ago and have never regretted it.

    The only TV content I'm interested in paying for is the major networks + the NFL. If Intel gives me that, I'm all in.

    Like you, I refuse to pay for content I don't use.
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Thursday, February 14, 2013 - link

    This discussion has been great, thank you all for responding. What I'd like to see more of is how much you'd like to see a service cost and maybe specifics on what content you'd like included. I know personally it'd be an easy sell if we're talking about $20/month for the content that I'm currently missing from Netflix. I have no idea whether or not that's realistic/feasible, but that's a number that I'd be comfortable with - what about everyone else?

    There's a healthy amount of skepticism as to whether or not Intel can pull this off, but what I'm more interested in is having a blueprint to be able to give to Intel or anyone else who tries to go after this market so they know what needs to be done to succeed.

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • tackle70 - Friday, February 15, 2013 - link

    I'd probably pay up to $10-20/month to get the major networks as long as it included the NFL and didn't black the games out.

    I can't see myself paying more than $20/month for TV under any circumstances, though. I compare the value to Netflix, and when I only pay $8-10/month for Netflix and all the content there, there's nothing on TV to convince me it is worth more than double that amount.
    Reply
  • pandemonium - Thursday, February 14, 2013 - link

    If Intel can help destroy the traditional cable company model, I'm all for it. Paying for television with commercials has become all but history to me.

    Netflix revolutionized the industry already. If this service is provided without commercials I'd consider it. F*** commercials and the horse their marketeers rode in on.
    Reply

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