June 6, 2011 §
UPDATE: Microsoft’s announcement is in, and the winner is …
A platform enhancement. Albeit a pretty slick one. Xbox 360s powered by Bing and a subscription to the Live Marketplace will be able to use voice recognition to help users find access to content from sources such as Hulu Plus, Netflix, and ESPN. The capability will extend to live programming in regions where Microsoft has the required partnerships, such as Canal+ in France, Sky TV in the UK, and FOXTEL in Australia. It’s a given that the proliferation of content across platforms and media genres (linear, on-demand, games, etc.) poses a user experience challenge, and Microsoft’s announcement offers a unique solution. But it’s one of many, as many incumbents and newcomers seek to deliver the “ultimate programming guide”.
Microsoft is expected to make a major Xbox LIVE – IPTV related announcement today at the E3 gaming conference. The rumors range from a Mediaroom enhancement (the platform that AT&T’s Uverse service uses to bring IPTV to its customers), to an a la carte service (competing with Netflix and Hulu Plus), to a full-on linear TV subscription service. A few reasons why I don’t expect Microsoft to announce the latter:
- The live TV business is a monster to get into. Huge fixed costs, and programming is getting even more expensive (not that Microsoft can’t afford it, but why would it?)
- The Xbox may be a trojan horse on which to launch a video service, but how many homes have multiple Xboxes connected throughout their home? If Microsoft were planning to compete with linear TV, it would need distribution (or a hardware extender, perhaps), that it doesn’t have today
- Moving from platform to B2C service would put it in contention with AT&T and any future partners it hopes to add. Counter to Apple’s, Microsoft’s strategy has always been to be the platform.
- Live TV is a competitive industry. In any given market, you have a cable company, perhaps a fiber option, and a couple satellite providers, not to mention over-the-air, and over-the-top alternatives. Microsoft, or any company wishing to enter the space, would need some pretty thick skin, if they hope to be successful.
So, we’ll see what they come up with, but I don’t think it will be the shocker that some are predicting.