While stars like Apple, Tesla and Facebook are hard-core spotlight stealers on the stage that is Silicon Valley, Intel has long served as the workhorse of the tech world. Quietly cranking out the digital guts that run our cool gadgets, the Santa Clara-based king of chipmakers is hardly a party animal.
Well, Intel just got a lot sexier.
And it did so on the set of "America's Greatest Makers," the Intel-funded reality TV show on TBS that wrapped up its first season recently with a million-dollar prize awarded to the inventors of a gamified toothbrush for kids. There in the middle of the panel, alongside fellow judges like NBA superstar Shaquille O'Neal, was Intel's chief geek and visionary, CEO Brian Krzanich.
BK, as the 56-year-old Krzanich is known around the office, is the epitome of the "celebritization" trend in high-tech and other industries, a marketing strategy that strives to pump up the personality factor of a company.
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"The show took Intel's name and gave it a personality," said Dr. Anubha Sacheti, a Boston-area pediatric dentist whose toothbrush team, Grush, took the first season prize. Their invention, which is designed to get kids to brush better, features a kill-the-germs game on a mobile app tied by Bluetooth to a brush, which acts as a joystick. The judges loved it. "People will now start seeing Intel as a company doing truly innovative things, known for much more than just that 'Intel Inside' sticker on your computer."
Which is a good thing, because those Intel-driven personal computers are slowly going away. Fifteen years ago, personal computers made up half the market, but that number is expected to drop to 17 percent by 2020, according to research firm IDC. Facing a shift to cloud computing and mobile, Intel and others have been trying to manage the decline in their traditional core product. That's why Intel, which last month announced it was cutting its global workforce by 12,000, is betting big on that far more seductive world of Internet of Things devices and on chips for data centers. Whether it's smart refrigerators or thermostats you can talk to, the market for brand-new technologies is estimated by IDC to jump from almost nothing to nearly 6 percent of the chip market in 2020.
In fact, it's the growth plays like high-speed memory chips and connected objects in the IoT that made up about 40 percent of Intel's $55 billion in revenue last year, and nearly two-thirds of its operating profits.
Penny Baldwin, the Intel vice president responsible for Intel's global branding game plan, says the TV show, which is already fielding contestants for its second season, is just one piece of an "overt strategy to make the Intel brand far more visual and visceral in pop culture at large."
Baldwin says the show's website, called "America's Greatest Makers: An Intel Experience," has already had 3.5 million visitors, with a 70 percent completion rate among those who watch the site's videos. The site, she says, has "enjoyed the highest levels of engagement of any online effort that Intel has ever done before."
Meanwhile, the show is apparently striking a nerve with young viewers who've been seduced by its creator, Mark Burnett, the reality-TV mastermind behind "Survivor," "The Apprentice," and "Shark Tank." Sitting in the middle of the judges panel, Krzanich is something of a fatherly figure on the show, casually dressed and often wearing a black T-shirt under his suit jacket. The CEO is fairly quiet, even serious at times. But he can be passionate, especially when he sees a product that excites him. He's clearly the top techie in the bunch, never getting too pumped up, but bringing his own maker expertise into the mix whenever he can.
While Intel's partner TBS is not releasing viewer numbers, data from Nielsen shows that 25 percent of viewers were new to TBS, while the production attracted high numbers of affluent millennials, wearable-tech owners, and what Nielsen calls "gadget-philes."
In other words, makers are watching other DIY pioneers on Intel's TV show.
The show has more than 100 staffers, but Intel would not release company costs associated with the show. A big part of the project, says Baldwin, is to foster a collaborative relationship with the maker community, a contemporary culture of hackers, tinkerers and inventors whose creations Intel expects will drive the Internet of Things forward with gadgets that could be stuffed to the gills with Intel chips. Whether it's robotics, 3-D printing or any other IoT application, Intel wants to be smack dab in the middle of the action.
"Nobody thinks about wearables or robots with Intel inside, but that's what Intel is trying to change," says semiconductor analyst Mario Morales with IDC. "This TV show is really meant to tell the whole world that Intel is going after this transformation of computing that's underway with intelligent systems, which some people think of as the Internet of Things."