Microsoft and Xbox Get Ready For NewFronts: Make No Small Plans

When the online video NewFronts presentations begin on Monday, the second presenter will be unusual for many reasons.

It’s Microsoft, the ubiquitous software company that’s nothing like the other presenters in terms of breadth. And mainly it’s there to present its new interactive programming on its Xbox platform, which is a second unusual aspect of the presentation because Xbox is known for games, not dramatic or comedy content.

And third, one of the main architects of all this is Nancy Tellem, who formerly was the president of CBS Television Studios, operated by that venerable old TV network. She’s now is the entertainment and digital media president at Microsoft.  On its Xbox platform, Microsoft will be creating six to nine new series, featuring names like Steven Spielberg, Sarah Silverman and Michael Sera in producing roles, and all apparently creating content with interactive ingredients.

Scott Ferris, general manager for Microsoft Advertising’s TV & Video Business Group, sees the Xbox developments with the perspective of an executive who was part of Time Warner Cable’s experimental interactive Full Service Network in Orlando in the mid-90s, when it was so space-aged it was acknowledged from the start to be altogether way-too far-forward for the times. He’s been all over the content biz and he's all over what Microsoft is doing.  

Now, the way he explains it—in vague terms, so as to not give away Microsoft’s Monday afternoon thunder—Microsoft hopes to link its content to Xbox and every other device, and not just for games, creating a viewing experience that he speaks about in revolutionary terms.  

“There are two main components to a consumer’s experience with content and one is the content itself and the other is the device. I think what is unique about Microsoft is that we have a presence across all the screens,” Ferris says. “We do a lot of research and analysis with how a consumer transacts their daily life through work and play and how they are interacting with devices through the work environment. And what we do is we build these immersive experiences across TV with our Xbox console, across tablets with Windows 8 and Surface and multiple devices and with smartphones.”

For example, he says, “Our research tells us people who are typical in the millennial demographic will change their devices something like 27 times an hour. They’ll go back and forth. We have a unique opportunity across all those devices. We are constructing an experience with consumers that take all of that into account.”

“Unique” is a word that gets thrown around a lot. Many of the NewFront presenters have something that’s all theirs to claim, so when a Microsoft executive predicts the best new thing since sliced bread, I can endure the hype because, well, I really, really like bread.  But Xbox compete in a way with Amazon and Roku and Apple and even the Chromecast dongle.

Ferris says Microsoft  knows that what people want in their next content adventure is a single source solution. “They are expecting a much more significant television experience. They want the ability to have the highest choice of content availble to them on demand and to do more with more TV and not have it be cumbersome. They want to simply toggle between high resolution content and cloud based gaming, to being able to browse the Web or retrieve on demand content or go out to the Internet." He implies Microsoft’s got that all covered.

Ferris makes a good, solid point when he asserts Xbox LIves's 48 million worldwide users are a tough-to-please group, but whose requirements mimic the needs of good interactive content.

Even with the new non-gaming content, Ferris says, “Xbox will still be very, very deep into serving the gaming community because that’s our fan base and that’s the future of television viewership. Interactive users have a demand for high quality graphics and resolution, a demand for multi-user viewer interactions and being able to store big files. Basically the high kind of demand and requirements are exactly the ones that come from the gamer community. No question. That’s been our bar to create an all in one platform with Xbox1.”

So we’ll see.

pj@mediapost.com
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