Intel Is Selling Off Its Sports Group – Founded and Based in Israel

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Intel's 3D camera installed in a football field in the U.S.
Intel's 3D camera installed in a football field in the U.S.Credit: אינטל

Intel is giving up its sports group, Intel Sports. Haaretz has learned that the company is selling part of the group to the telecom giant Verizon and plans to shut down the rest. 

Intel Sports developed a three-dimensional, 360-degree viewing technology of football and basketball, through peripheral cameras in a volumetric video technology. It was developed following the purchase of the Israeli startup Replay in 2016 for $175 million.

The group employs some 150 people, about half of them in Israel. Most of the employees are expected to receive work offers from Mobileye, Intel’s subsidiary in Israel or from other groups in the company. Others, especially those in broadcast and production rather than in technology, are likely to be laid off.

The development was part of Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger’s decision to increase the focus on the company’s core activities, while closing down groups and units that were established under previous CEOs, and were not associated with these areas. 

On Wednesday, Intel announced it would gradually shut down its RealSense technology, which developed three-dimensional cameras, also generated and operated in Israel.

It is not clear what Verizon will do with the technology, but it has expressed interest in volumetric video (hologram style three-dimensional video). For example, last May the company set up an association of companies to create a uniform standard in volumetric video.

Intel responded in a statement saying, “We are removing volumetric video from Intel’s roadmap to focus on advancing innovative technologies that better support our core businesses and IDM 2.0 strategy. Our main priority is to ensure a smooth transition for potential acquirers, employees, customers, and partners.”  

Frustration & mass departures 

This is a sad ending to the ambitious technology developed by the Israeli startup Replay,

which was bought by Intel during Brian Krzanich’s term as CEO and has since floundered.

Replay Technologies was founded in 2011 by Oren Yogev, Aviv Shapira and Matteo Shapira and developed a product that enables the broadcast of instant replays of moves in sports games, using 3D technology. These moves consist of scoring goals in soccer or baskets and dunks in basketball. 

The camera revolving 360 degrees around the players creates an effect reminiscent of the scenes in the “Matrix” film franchise. It is achieved with cameras placed on the stadium walls, photographing the game from every direction. Then the software “connects” the shots, creating a 3D scene.

The original concept behind Replay was to create live content for virtual reality glasses, which is why Sony was interested in buying it as well as Intel. Intel’s initial plan was to integrate Replay’s technology with a VR headset enterprise Intel had developed at the time, dubbed Project Alloy. Intel believed that such applications, which require considerable computing power, will make people buy new stronger computers equipped with Intel hardware.

However, a few months after the purchase, Intel decided to shut down the VR project at this stage. It also suspended agreements with Microsoft and Sony in sports projects. In order to continue using Replay, Intel decided to continue to cooperate with stadiums and groups in volumetric video activity with returns and live 360-degree broadcasts. But the connection between Intel, a chip manufacturer, and work with sports teams and stadiums for sports broadcasts, was peculiar to say the least. Intel maintained it mainly to advance its brand among larger audiences. 

Outwardly, Intel indeed generated considerable positive PR with impressive demos and announcements and formed partnerships around the world. In Israel the Menora Mivtachim arena used the technology in cooperation with Maccabi Tel Aviv and the sports channel. The technology was integrated in football games in the United States and was also used by soccer clubs in Europe such as Arsenal, Liverpool, Barcelona and Real Madrid. 

But behind the scenes, the picture was different. The match between Replay’s product and the chip giant simply didn’t work. Intel appointed people who were unfamiliar with the activity to run Intel Sports. James Carwana was appointed head of Intel Sports’ world activity, after serving as Intel CEO’s technical assistant. Dudi Benayoun, who had managed chip development groups, was appointed to run the group’s activity in Israel. Benayoun left Intel some six months ago.

Replay’s employees and management were frustrated by the corporate decisions, appointments and directions and started leaving en masse. Today hardly any of the managers or employees from Replay’s original team remains in Intel Sports. Two of the founders, Aviv and Matteo Shapira, left to set up the drone startup Xtend. The third founder, Oren Yogev, also left to set up the startup Blink Technologies.

A signal of what was to come was Intel’s decision to close down Intel Studios in 2020. It set up the ambitious enterprise in Los Angeles in 2018 to create virtual reality and augmented reality content. The studios were based on technology developed by Replay Israel, which was bought by Intel in 2016, and headed by senior Replay executive Diego Prilusky.

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