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Microsoft TV: The Next Developments

msft tvIn addition to Bill Gates keynote, Microsoft launched the Consumer Electronics Show Sunday evening with four Television related press releases and product announcements. 

• MGM & Disney/ABC on Xbox Live
Headlining the list was Microsoft’s announcement that, Xbox Live, their internet platform for delivering video on demand through the game console, will soon offer an on-demand library of content double that available through cable and satellite services.   

The growth in the library owes largely to two new content sharing deals with Disney-ABC and MGM.  The deals follow the same pattern as Microsoft’s previous efforts to sign up content partnerships over the past year.  MGM and Disney-ABC TV will join more than 35 other studios and networks that have already cut deals to participate.  

Expected to be live later this month, the content sharing agreements will make TV programming like Lost and Ugly Betty and movies like the Terminator and Silence of the Lambs available on-demand for Xbox Live’s more than 10m subscribers. (Disney already cut a deal to license their movie content back in July)

These deals, while not exclusive,  help insure Microsoft has a solid position from which to compete with potential iTunes powered rentals which are expected to be announced in the coming weeks, as well as set top on-demand offerings from Vudu, Building B, Netflix (launched last week), and Amazon (partnered with Tivo).

Microsoft at the Olympics
Elsewhere in the ground between TV and Internet, Microsoft announced a robust content sharing deal with NBC.    Together, the companies will leverage their MSNBC relationship, along with their assorted web properties, including the  website, to extend their coverage of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.  MSFT’s Silverlight web video platform, an aspiring competitor to Adobe’s Flash, will feature prominently.  Powering all live and on-demand video, the Olympic coverage will be Silverlight’s first major test.

• Xbox to Become Set-Top Box
In the UK Microsoft is partnering with British Telecom to expand the functionality of the Xbox platform further into the home television and media-access marketplace.  Later this year, the Xbox 360 will be able to function as a Set-Top Box for BT’s Vision service.

BT Vision has been offered in the UK since December 2006.  The service allows paying subscribers to receive digital TV and, also, on-demand media over a broadband connection.  The content so far has been displayed only through BT’s ‘V-box’ hardware.  The partnership will enable a BT Broadband customer to use an Xbox 360 console to access the BT Vision service and its library of on-demand content.  According to the press release “BT Vision customers with an Xbox 360 console will gain the option of accessing BT Vision from either the Xbox 360 console or a set-top-box. The service will be available to existing and future Xbox 360 console owners.”

• whMedia Room gets Smarter
Microsoft Media Room, their IPTV platform, already figures prominently in services like BT’s Vision.   Soon, the platform will also feature an advanced digital recording (DVR) technology that will allow customers to distribute recorded programming around their home.  Essentially, DVR Anywhere as they’re calling it, is SlingBox-light.  Incorporated into the set top box handling the IPTV feed, the software enables users to record a program on a DVR hooked up to ne television but watch it on other TV’s around the house.

The service is made possible by the networked architecture of the IPTV platform and hardware.  Because  Mediaroom’s DVR Anywhere is software-based, Microsoft says no TV tuners are needed. The system also requires only one set-top box in the home have a hard drive

Microsoft reported more than 1m people are using Media Room so far but the IPTV based television platform is still largely limited by a lack of availability.  About 20 service providers are offering the service to their customers around the globe.

Lest there be any doubt Microsoft’ is taking their TV related initiatives seriously.  Robbie Back explicitly expressed as much during his portion of the keynote.  Barely veiled, he fired a shot across Apple’s bow saying “it’s abundantly clear that building great connected TV experiences is not a ‘hobby’ for Microsoft.”

[AT the All Things Digital conference in May, Steve Jobs said: “We're in two businesses today, we'll be very shortly in three businesses and a hobby. One is our Mac business, second is our music business, third business is the phone business, handsets. And the hobby is Apple TV. The reason I call it a hobby is a lot of people have tried and failed to make it a business”]

Unquestionably, the future incarnation of Television (and its continued integration with Internet services) figures prominently into Microsoft’s plans.


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