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Intel's Spying Set-Top Won't Tip the Scales for Its Internet TV Service

6/08/2012 3:01 PM

Apparently, Intel’s big idea for a better over-the-top TV mousetrap involves a set-top box with facial-recognition capabilities — so the service can target ads based on who’s watching the TV, according to a Reuters report.

The set-top box wouldn’t identify individuals, “but it could provide general data about viewers’ gender or whether they’re adults or children to help target advertising,” the article said.

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Really? A way to possibly tell an advertiser whether it’s Mom or Dad in front of Mad Men — or Stevie or Sophie in front of SpongeBob SquarePants — is going to persuade cable networks to fork over their crown jewels for Intel’s experimental TV service?

Color me extremely skeptical, especially given that targeted ads have been a tough sell even among traditional TV providers.

And never mind the whole creepiness factor of Intel’s facial-recognition-in-the-set-top thing… which is not even new. Comcast had a skunkworks project a few years back that involved, yes, a camera-enabled set-top that could identify viewers to, among other things, serve up personalized ads. The freaked-out reaction from the blogosphere was predictable (see Comcast: The DVRs Will Have Eyes?).

The primary problem with Intel’s whole strategy, as Reuters correctly noted, is that large media companies (still) aren’t willing to play ball with the over-the-top crowd. (Remember that Apple tried this in 2009 and failed.) Programmers have no interest in supplying OTT distributors with their current TV shows because that would disrupt their existing businesses.

“[I]t comes back to the content guys,” Sanford Bernstein senior analyst Todd Juenger told me earlier this year. “They have all the stuff people want to see, and they’re under no obligation to make that available to anyone.”

And, as HBO execs have said, pay TV distribution is — for now — the most efficient way to reach their audience. Which is why they’re not interested in offering a standalone version of HBO Go, resisting the pleas of the guy who set up TakeMyMoneyHBO.com and those who admit they would rather pirate Game of Thrones instead of getting cable.

HBO co-president Eric Kessler, speaking at NewBay Media’s “TV in Multiplatform World” event last month, said that while there might be an additional 3 million to 5 million broadband-only homes a standalone service would appeal to, it would be expensive to market to those households and there would be attendant churn. By targeting subs through pay TV operators, he said, “we’re going after the homes that are most likely to buy HBO.”

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Programming Note: Don’t miss the fourth annual Multichannel News/B&C OnDemand Summit, Wednesday, June 20, in New York City. Scheduled speakers include Comcast’s Matt Strauss, Verizon’s Terry Denson, Rogers’ David Purdy, Charter’s Jeff Bernth, HBO’s Hans Deutmeyer and Music Choice’s Dave Del Beccaro.

September