Cord cutters everywhere are likely breathing a collective sigh of disappointment today as the New York Post reports that Erik Huggers, VP of Intel Media and the big brain behind Intel’s mysterious OnCue TV service, is apparently eye-balling the vacant CEO spot at Hulu – a fact that could mean trouble for Intel’s Internet TV plans.
On its own, this might not seem like damning news – lots of people are gunning for the Hulu CEO position, and why shouldn’t Huggers? But when coupled with yesterday’s announcement that Intel is pushing OnCue’s release out to sometime in 2014 (ostensibly because it is having trouble sealing up licensing deals with networks so it can play popular TV shows through its set-top boxes), it’s hard not to wonder if Intel’s plan to deliver pay TV content directly to viewers over the Internet might be facing some insurmountable challenges. After all, if the guy who has spearheaded this project since its beginning is eyeballing the competition, could that mean anything good?
For those not familiar, Huggers has been trying to change the way people think of Intel by developing a piece of hardware that changes the way we watch TV. In an interview with Variety, Huggers noted that when most people think of Intel, they think of ‘Intel inside,’ a logical assumption considering the trademark made Intel a household name. But Huggers aims to change that perception by giving consumers a revolutionary product that they’ll likely touch every day: a set-top box that plays popular pay TV programs via the Internet.
Huggers walled off his project from the rest of Intel two years ago to give it a sort of start-up vibe. And since then, OnCue has remained super-secret. But recent reports have shown that the box has made its way out of the development phase and into beta testing, with thousands of lucky Intel employees giving it an exclusive spin. That would indicate that the hardware has been developed, the software and user interface is being debugged, and that Intel is able to send at least some programming to the boxes via the Internet. But whatever that programming is, it isn’t good enough.
For Intel to wrap the project up and start shipping to customers this year, it needed to forge some serious deals with big media companies like Viacom, Disney, NBC Universal, or Fox. Doing so would allow Intel to bring shows people actually want to watch without the involvement of a cable or satellite company. And apparently it hasn’t managed to do that yet because, although Intel has been drumming up a date that would coincide with the holiday season, it has abandoned that plan and pushed the launch date out into next year.
Which leads us back to the issue of Huggers’ wandering eye: If Huggers would consider abandoning his baby to lead the company it was built to battle, could that mean ruin for the OnCue set-top box and service? Maybe, maybe not. A jump from VP to CEO of Hulu would be big, so it’s possible that Huggers is just fueled by career ambition. Or he’s abandoning ship before it sinks. According to the Post, both Huggers and Intel declined to comment, so, for now, we are left to speculate.
What do you think? Is the timing of this news purely circumstantial, or is possible OnCue may never see the light of day?