Microsoft Original Production Signals Value Of Content

The bombardment of news out of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) about all the would-be pioneering tech products has already started. With all the buzz about 4K TV sets – which offer four times the resolution of high definition – Sharp is going further by displaying an 8K (16 times HD) set. Dish Network is plugging a new second-screen experience via the iPad linked with its controversial Hopper DVR that facilitates social-media communication between viewers and offers a way to track “popular and trending” shows.

Stay tuned for plenty more out of Las Vegas. For a number of years, CES has looked to mingle more with the content industry, realizing the snazziest products are worthless if the pipes are dry. It’s been a triumph for the business.

The escalating value of long-form content, however, may be best validated by the number of non-traditional players increasingly not just looking to acquire it, but produce it. Netflix continues to invest more there. Hulu has made strides. Amazon wants a piece of the action. YouTube has all its channels. Now, Microsoft is making a play to feed original stuff through what was once just a video-game console.



Its efforts to turn the Xbox into a full-service entertainment hub, where there are opportunities to stream offerings from Netflix to Major League Baseball, has led it to long-time CBS executive Nancy Tellem. She’s working to launch a Los Angeles studio to drum up original content – both linear and interactive -- for Xbox Live subscribers.

(Nintendo is following the Microsoft lead in looking to expand beyond gaming with its new version of the Wii, offering opportunities to view cable channels, Hulu Plus and other content. Who knows? Success in generating viewers might nudge Nintendo into original production.)

In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Tellem offered some insight, though few specifics, into what she’s looking to accomplish at Microsoft. “Incredible content really raises the brand — look at ‘Mad Men’ with AMC,” she told the Reporter. “So original programming gives us an opportunity to kind of brand the Xbox. And looking at the technology the Xbox console provides, we are really a bit ahead of the more traditional media companies in having the ability to develop and produce interactive content.”

As far as the genres, Tellem says Xbox has no box. Live events, reality series and others are under consideration. But she’s clearly looking to offer up content akin to the breakout shows she helped develop at CBS, saying “we certainly intend to produce things with high production value, with the same breadth of storytelling that you see on traditional TV.”

Back in Sin City and CES this week, knowing there’s another well-funded company moving into content production should be welcome news. Extraordinary hardware manufacturers can probably get people interested in their innovations for a while regardless of how good the content is – e.g. the early days of HD – but that has a very limited shelf life.      

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