Intel threatening to enter set-top box business

For as long back as there have been digital set-top boxes, Intel has wanted to be part of them--literally. Despite that, there's never really been Intel "inside" any of the units that MVPDs provide for home entertainment centers around the world. But that, according to multiple sources, is about to change, although it won't happen at CES next week as had earlier been predicted.

"Intel's [effort] is a set-top box manufactured by Intel and possibly Intel-branded as well," GigaOM reported. "The device will be sold on Intel's website as well as through retail partners."

The unit is being developed by Intel Media, a separate and somewhat clandestine group within the chipmaker's hierarchy. And the box effort is apparently being driven by Sean Ludick, who has been handed the responsibility of getting an Intel box into the big box stores.

Just because it's there, though, doesn't mean it's going to fly off the shelves. There are plenty of units gathering dust on retailer shelves and online Web sites, starting with Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) efforts into the set-top business, and plenty of units being stored in MVPD warehouses for shipment to consumer homes. There's also the increased presence of non-set-top box devices like smart TVs. So to give the new Intel box a chance in the market, Intel Media hired Apple marketing veteran Courtnee Westendorf.

Just building a box is ambitious enough--as Cisco (Nasdaq: CSCO), Motorola and Pace Plc (LSE: PIC.L) can attest--but Intel has bigger plans than that. It wants its box to meld OTT content with licensed pay TV channels that it would somehow acquire and stream over the Internet as part of an ambitious a la carte channel offering.

The road map for the box apparently has an international flavor, according to the GigaOM story, with a French influence from Free, a "telco disruptor that built its own IPTV set-top box," and the BBC's iPlayer. Both are having mixed success battling with the big incumbents in their markets.

All of this is a lot to digest. Intel was expected to place the whole smorgasbord of expectations and beliefs on the table for the ravenous crowds at CES, but that's a bit too much for even this ambitious venture, reports now say.

The earliest anything official might be said about the project--details of which have leaked worse than a screen on a submarine--will come at a media conference in February.

For more:
- GigaOM had this story

Related articles:
Intel said to be prepping set-top box
Nintendo integrates cable TV and Web video programming with TVii interface
Apple will build TV and companion set-top, Brightcove CEO predicts

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