Intel, the computing behemoth that creates the chips responsible for powering most of the personal computers and servers around the world, has â€“ despite its engineering prowess â€“ been slow to make in-roads into other markets and has only recently launched a smartphone product. Now, Intel is hoping to launch a new set-top product that would enable consumers to subscribe to a-la-carte TV packages as well as on-demand services, replacing the â€œbundlesâ€ that have become the norm for cable and satellite subscribers. If this sounds too good to be true, wait until you hear the catchâ€¦
To convince broadcasters to deal directly with Intel, the company intends to allow networks and marketers to collect real-time demographic and viewing data to target specific audiences with both content and advertising. This will be achieved through a new set-top box which includes sensors and cameras which would allow it to identify who is watching TV. If youâ€™re thinking â€œBig Brotherâ€ from George Orwellâ€™s famous dystopia 1984, youâ€™re not so far off.
Perhaps as an acknowledgement of this comparison, Intel states that the box wonâ€™t be able to identify unique/individual users, only general characteristics such as age (adult versus child) and gender. In addition to being a potential boon to advertisers, Intelâ€™s system would simultaneously modernize Neilsenâ€™s antiquated TV rating system (which relies on extrapolated data from a panel of only 50,000 US households).
What might at first be thought of as creepy actually isnâ€™t very far from our present-day reality. Our web surfing habits are already being collected by vast array of agencies, retailers, ISPs and search engines, to the point where Microsoft recently announced they would turn on the Do Not Track feature by default on their next version of Internet Explorer in a move to better protect their customersâ€™ privacy. Moreover, some HDTVs already include sensors that know when viewers are around (and shut off when no oneâ€™s watching) and certain 3D-capable HDTVs include multi-viewer eye-tracking to optimize the 3D image â€“ this wouldnâ€™t be the first time viewers were themselves being watched. Samsungâ€™s latest generation of HDTVs even includes advanced facial recognition allowing the TVs to create unique profiles for each registered viewer and to customize content for whoeverâ€™s watching the TV. It also includes microphones and voice control capabilities.
With more and more viewers cutting the cable cord (1 million in 2011 with many switching to free over-the-air digital), Intelâ€™s offering could be the way to lure them back via an Ã -la-carte service.
Would you consider Intelâ€™s customizable TV service in exchange for letting Intel collect anonymized demographic data about you, your family and your TV watching habits?