In a move that appears to mirror Microsoft's misguided attempts a decade ago at turning its MSN online services into an entertainment portal, the software giant this week revealed that it has signed the first in a series of deals that will bring original entertainment content to its Xbox 360 video game console. Microsoft has signed an agreement with Safran Company, headed by Hollywood producer Peter Safran, to produce original, fictional TV show-type programs specifically for the Xbox 360.
"We definitely look at this as the first of many \[similar deals\]," Scott Nocas, the global marketing manager for programming of the Xbox Live entertainment service at Microsoft told "The New York Times." Shows that appear on the Xbox 360 via Microsoft's Xbox Live online service will be available exclusively on that platform for a period of time and can then be made available elsewhere. At least some will be advertising supported, Microsoft says, and the first shows will hit Xbox Live in late 2008.
Microsoft claims that about 10 million people have signed up for the Xbox Live service, most of whom utilize the free version, called Xbox Live Silver. Via Xbox Live, subscribers can perform a number of video game-related activities, such as playing games online, but the service also offers entertainment content, including rentable movies and rentable and purchasable TV shows. It's unclear how popular this content is with subscribers, given that the Xbox 360's core demographic is avid video game players, not couch potatoes.
The question, of course, is whether this move makes any sense, now or in the future. In addition to its questionable demographics, most of the 18 million Xbox 360 consoles sold thus far have extremely limited storage space, making downloadable content unviable. And it's unclear whether consumers are looking for yet another way to acquire non-interactive entertainment content. Most Xbox 360 users already have televisions, cable systems with On Demand functionality, Internet-connected PCs, and other similar ways to enjoy original programming.
"The Xbox is unique," Safran says. "It operates at a level outside of what we generally consider Web entertainment." Hey, he's from Hollywood, so he should know.