Peter Kafka

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Intel Looking for Help from Amazon or Samsung to Keep Its Web TV Project Alive

Erik Huggers

Erik Huggers

Intel executives, who have promised to launch a Web-based pay TV service by the end of 2013, are now looking for a strategic backer to help them fund and distribute the service. If they don’t find one soon, it’s possible the project will be scrapped.

People familiar with Intel’s plans said the company has been talking to both Amazon and Samsung in the hope of keeping the service afloat.

Executives from Amazon and Intel declined to comment; I’m waiting to hear back from Samsung reps. [UPDATE: No comment from Samsung, either.]

In February, Intel executive Erik Huggers said he planned to start selling an “over the top” pay TV service that would contain a full compliment of broadcast and cable TV networks, by the end of the year.

Other technology players, including Google, Apple and Sony, have pondered a similar service, though none of them have publicly committed to the idea.

But Intel has yet to finalize a deal with a major TV programmer. And new CEO Brian Krzanich, who took over the company in May, has made a point of striking a tentative tone when discussing Intel’s TV ambitions.

“We’re being cautious. We’re experts in silicon, we’re experts in mobility, in driving Moore’s law,” Krzanich said in a June interview. “But we are not experts in the content industry and we’re being careful.”

Intel has more than 300 employees, most of whom it hired from outside the company, working on the TV project under Huggers. And it is currently testing a version of its service, which is supposed to work with an Intel-designed set-top box, with more than 3,000 Intel employees. Intel has planned on marketing the service under a new “OnCue” brand.

OnCue is supposed to work like a traditional pay TV that competitors like Comcast and Verizon provide, except that it’s delivered over the Web. Intel also plans on offering a couple of differentiating features, like a slicker user interface, and a cloud-based DVR that would automatically provide access to any program that had aired in the last 3 days, without requiring users to save a specific show.

But none of that will work without programming deals, or support from Intel’s top executives. A deal with Amazon or Samsung could theoretically bolster the service’s chances, by providing both cash and distribution.

Samsung is already a power in “smart” TVs, so you could imagine a scenario where Intel’s service comes bundled with the Korean company’s screens. And Amazon has already been spending heavily to build up a presence in Web video, and plans to roll out its own Web TV box later this year.

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