Disney backs new Intel chip, hints on "Lost" finale

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Walt Disney Co on Thursday threw its weight behind a new Intel chip that lets TV viewers interact with their favorite programs, underscoring a continuing effort to merge computers and media.

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Anne Sweeney, president of the Disney-ABC Television group, said viewers may be able to access complementary content during the series finale of the hit TV series “Lost” next year through the chip, designed to power Internet applications on TVs.

The new chip from Intel could offer content providers like Disney and electronics manufacturers new ways to collaborate on programing, Sweeney said at the Consumer Electronics Show [ID:nN05368327] in Las Vegas.

The chip, which Intel launched last year to specifically target the consumer electronics industry, is designed to be included in TV sets and contains software that lets networks, content creators and other developers add their own applications.

It has the “potential to make TV viewing more functional and more fun,” Sweeney said.

ABC’s popular “Good Morning America” and “Lost” were good candidates for this type of interactive, add-on programing, she added.

Sweeney said they could work on widgets -- small software applications -- that allow GMA viewers to cast votes or comment in real-time on stories being broadcast. ABC could even build widgets that take viewers through the step-by-step instructions for recipes shown on GMA’s cooking segment.

And ABC may also develop an application specifically for the series finale of “Lost” next year that could heighten the audience’s involvement, say, providing clues to the plot. The series follows the lives of plane crash survivors on a tropical island and will kick off a new season this month.

“We know fans of Lost have a huge appetite for insight and information into the show,” Sweeney said. “Using the Intel Widget for the series finale could be a great way to give our fans an extraordinary viewing experience for the end of a truly iconic show.”

But she added there are legal issues to be sorted out before Disney can introduce such widgets.

U.S. households are rapidly accessing content through channels other than traditional broadcasting. About 30 percent of U.S. homes have a digital video recorder and 39 percent have video-on-demand, Sweeney said, citing recent research.

About 38 percent of wireless subscribers have a video-capable cell phone, and U.S. viewers watch as many as 7.5 billion online video streams in any given month.

“It’s not just about great content and cool technology,” said Sweeney, dressed in a black pantsuit and pink blouse.

People like easy-to-use interfaces and simple navigation, she said, pointing to Apple Inc’s iPhone and iPod as devices that “(get) this fundamental fact.”

Disney, which has traditionally been quick to adopt new platforms to distribute its content, signed a deal with the Macbook maker in 2005 to let people download episodes of its TV shows on iTunes, Apple’s music software.

Sweeney also said Disney-ABC launched a new state-of-the-art research facility in Austin, Texas, last month to study what content works best on the variety of viewing gadgets in the market. The Ad Lab will research consumer behavior and responses to media, advertising and new technology, she said.