Following in the footsteps of Netflix and Amazon, Microsoft will launch a new original television series for its Xbox entertainment consoles in 2014. The firm had previously announced that Steven Spielberg would produce a series based on "Halo," but had not specified a release date.
"We're hoping we will be able to put something up in the first quarter [of 2014]," Xbox Entertainment Studios president Nancy Tellem said at a recent media event. "I'm incredibly ambitious and impatient," she added, noting that getting the Xbox original programming development going has been a slower process than anticipated.
This new programing won't be limited to the Xbox One, which launched last month and has sold more than 2 million units, keeping it neck-and-neck with the Sony PlayStation 4 despite being in market for less time and in fewer markets. It will also ship on the Xbox 360, which has sold more than 80 million units in 8 years. But the estimated market size for this programming is about 50 million users, which is the subscriber base for Xbox Live, Microsoft's video game and entertainment subscription service. Xbox Live is available on both consoles.
Microsoft had previously announced its intention to deliver a TV series based on the "Halo" video games that will be produced by Steven Spielberg. But the Halo series will be just one of several that Microsoft is planning for next year, although Tellem offered no specifics beyond the 2014 launch period.
Despite obvious comparisons with Netflix and Amazon, both of which launched highly successful TV series of their own in 2013—"House of Cards" and "Orange is the New Black" have both emerged as hits on Netflix, whereas Amazon can claim success with "Alpha House"—Tellem claims that Microsoft's offering will be different. Somehow.
"We aren't Netflix, we aren't Amazon, we're a different animal," she said. "We're neither, or we're a little like them. It all depends. The lack of 'black and white and this is the template and this is what we're following' is very difficult. As we continue to do deals everyone's going to get more comfortable."
I defy anyone to make sense of that. But Microsoft is still working through how to best differentiate, and it might have some programming that's "first on Xbox" or "best on Xbox," the latter perhaps through the use of interactive and second-screen experiences.
At a higher level, though, Microsoft's efforts to create original programming on Xbox are a return to a failed strategy from the early late 1990s, when it briefly attempted to become a content provider on the web with such fare as "Mungo Park." This nascent web experience offered viewers a unique combination of "Internet text, audio, and video chat." Sound familiar?
Of course, timing is everything. In today's world of ever-shortening attention spans and the proliferation of gadgets, a customer base could finally be ready for something interactive and engaging. And as Microsoft has already demonstrated, more users consume non-game entertainment on Xbox than play games already. And the Xbox One was designed with that reality in mind.
"Millennials are now dictating what we're doing," Telem said. "I prefer a more passive experience, but this new millennial generation are multitasking and leaning in. They want the option to watch when they want to watch."