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Yahoo and Intel Chase Interactive TV Services

intel yahooConvergence is the keyword and just about every media and technology company with a chip in the game is betting on it through some form of technology or content integration.  Wednesday at the Intel Developers Conference, the biggest news among many announcements was the surprise pitch that Intel and Yahoo are joining together in a tie-up aimed at grabbing one of the biggest prizes: the marriage of Internet interactivity and traditional TV.  They’re calling the offering “Widget Channel.”

canmore chipThe Widget Channel will marry Intel’s new Media Processor CE3100, which was formerly called Canmore, with Yahoo’s open Widget Engine application development framework (The software framework was previously called Konfabulator.  The name was changed in 2005 when Yahoo acquired the company behind it).

In simple terms, the idea is to offer a joint hardware/software solution that allows small web applications to be overlaid on top of traditional TV programming. The mini-apps, or widgets, can be developed by any third party and downloaded at a consumer’s discretion.  Once loaded, they operate continuously in the background. 

According to Intel and Yahoo press materials, 43 percent of 2008 Super Bowl viewers used computers or phones to surf the net while also watching TV.   The Widget Channel would have allowed them to do both through the TV at the same time.  

close up widget channelWith Connected TV Widgets, during a commercial in the baseball game you might be watching, you’d be able to pull up a  Widget that displays a live stock ticker,  alternate sports scores. (Click the Thumbnail Image for an example) You could also check your email while watching your favorite program.  In theory, you could pull up a widget to vote on your favorite Super Bowl ad (or American Idol performance).  You could use widget to buy a product from Amazon you just saw advertised during the commercial break. Make a dinner reservation, or order takeout. The possibilities are enormous.

In use, the Widgets can be displayed alone, as sidebars, or wherever you like on the screen. In theory, they can be easily set up and navigated.

software flowThe company’s are calling the project a "rich ecosystem." A full development kit is promised. Using it, developers will be able to design Widgets in Javscript, XML, HTML and Flash.  Corporate partners including Blockbuster, CBS, Comcast, eBay, Disney, MTV and Showtime have all signed on.

There’s one big catch:  to use the Widget channel, a consumer will need either a set top box or a TV built with the Media Processor on board.   The risk is that, even as a relatively open standard, it represents just one of many attempts to make a lasting bridge between the Internet and TV.  There’s no guarantee of widespread adoption from hardware makers or software developers (though the joint power of Intel and Yahoo should help sway some Consumer Electronics adoption). 

Shipments of the system on chip (SoC) hardware from Intel, which support HD, advanced 3d graphics and broadbased hardware/software compatibility are expected to begin shipping to OEM’s next month.

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