In just two short months, Xbox Entertainment Studios will start trickling out original content onto its digital media delivery service, Xbox Live. Formerly a domain exclusive to gamers, Xbox Live is now Microsoft’s canvas for its broader experiment in capturing the living room, which was the original thrust of its latest gaming console released in November, the Xbox One.
After reassuring its core fan base of gamers, Microsoft seems to be regressing toward its original game plan: Offer something irresistible to everyone in the living room, from the 15 year-old Titanfall superfan to the primetime TV addict.
At its Xbox One launch event, Microsoft announced a live-action series based on its modern gaming classic Halo, which will be produced by Steven Spielberg. Now, as Bloomberg reports, Xbox Entertainment Studios is busy working on at least six original series.
The gaggle of new Xbox series take a variety of well-calculated tacks. Among them:
- Seth Green stop-motion animation show (Adult Swim fans: check.)
- Sketch comedy show with Michael Cera and Sarah Silverman (Comedy: check.)
- Humans: A remake of a Swedish sci-fi TV series (Sci-fi: check.)
- Halo (Blockbuster with big names: check.)
- Every Street United: Reality series about soccer (World Cup fans: check.)
- Gaming documentary series (Core gamers: check.)
Xbox’s sudden interest in TV is no accident. In late 2012, the company hired Nancy Tellem, the former president of CBS Entertainment, to be the company’s new head of entertainment and digital media. In her tenure at CBS, Tellem developed a huge string of homeruns for the network, from Friends and ER to Survivor and CSI.
This year at Microsoft, Tellem’s vision will bear its first fruit. But who will be watching, exactly?
Cool Content Trapped In A Many-Walled Garden
While there’s no questioning Microsoft’s original lineup is engineered for success with its existing viewership—Tellem recently said the content is tailored to fit its gamer user base, namely male viewers between the ages of 18 and 35—it’s hard to imagine where exactly it will go from there.
As it stands, Xbox Live is an excellent multimedia platform for anyone that owns an Xbox and is already forking over its $60 annual fee for online multiplayer gaming. For everyone else, Xbox content is a prohibitively expensive habit. You’ll need an Xbox to start with (at $499, the Xbox One isn’t cheap), then you’ll need to pay the toll to open the gates to Xbox Live “perks” like Netflix and Hulu Plus streaming, which you’ll pay for separately of course.
If Phil Spencer’s Twitter account is any indication, the new head of Microsoft’s Xbox division could open Xbox Live’s premium content to non-paying subscribers in the near future, which would make Xbox Live a much more viable video platform.
But even if Spencer only frees some of the original content, the fact remains that you’d need an Xbox to watch it. Of course, Microsoft could license its fleet of new shows elsewhere, but that certainly wouldn’t move Xbox One units.
The Xbox Gets In The Way
After the success of Netflix’s original series like House of Cards and Orange Is The New Black, a lightbulb blinked on for every company with a video platform. With its Xbox TV experiment, Microsoft is piggybacking on Netflix’s “see what sticks” original series campaign, but with a much narrower audience.
Arguably, Xbox should be in a great position to offer original content. As many misfires as Microsoft has made in other areas—mobile comes to mind—the Xbox division has consistently tracked industry trends and exhibited a savvy understanding of its users.
The dawn of Xbox Live was a revolution in home entertainment, but it’s not looking too unique these days. The content lineup will resonate with Xbox’s core users (i.e. gamers), there’s little doubt about that. But with the $35 Chromecast on the market, numerous set-top competitors and plenty of easy ways to stream or download video content from anywhere on the Internet, Xbox’s own core product could prove to be its greatest obstacle.