Intel Watching you Watch TV

Intel has officially announced it will be launching an internet-based television service — and it will use cameras to monitor your viewing habits.

The set-top box will combine access to cable and satellite connections with an internet feed. The main selling point will be the ability to get a more specific choice of channels to pay for, rather than be forced to subscribe to large “tier” package.

That is of course reliant on channel providers playing ball. Because of this problem, Intel plans to launch on a market by market basis and try to reach favorable deals in particular locations rather than negotiate nationally.

The theory is that the service could overcome the trend of people abandoning premium cable for the basic service or cancelling altogether. Intel believes people who aren’t willing to shell out for an expensive package might still be willing to pay a little extra for content they really want.

Where possible, Intel plans to offer a catch-up service that allows customers to watch shows via the Internet connection, without the need to record them in advance.

The most intriguing element of the box is the built-in camera that monitors viewers and is designed to give advertisers a better insight into who is watching their shows. Originally it appeared this would simply capture crude information such as an estimate of the gender and age of viewers.

Now Intel is talking about the idea of using facial recognition as a way for individual viewers to automatically “log in” to a personal account on the box. The idea is that if you sit in front of the screen alone, the box can make viewing recommendations or show a favorite channels list based on your personal viewing history.

Intel has said it will make the feature optional and allows viewers to shut it off. It’ll be interesting to see how it persuades people to leave the camera on: it could try to push the benefits of the personal recommendations, or it might simply offer a discount on service fees.

There’s also a suggestion the camera data could encourage channel controllers to consider unbundling. For example, the company behind a channel might currently prefer the security of getting a small royalty for every viewer on a package that includes a channel, even though most of them may rarely watch it. If the camera data shows people in a particular demographic spend a lot of time watching the channel, the controllers might feel more confident about letting people subscribe to it for a few bucks each month.