Microsoft grabbed the early PR spotlight at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), now underway in Las Vegas, announcing a variety of deals across the broadband video spectrum. The deals, announced by Bill Gates in his traditional night 1 keynote, reinforce Microsoft's intentions to play multiple roles in what Gates calls the "first true Digital Decade."
Here's a look at Microsoft's deals and why they matter:
NBCU 2008 Olympics on MSN, using Silverlight
Microsoft and NBC, which has the broadcast rights to the '08 Summer Games from Beijing, announced that MSN would be the exclusive partner for NBCOlympics.com including thousands of hours of live video coverage, and that Silverlight, which is Microsoft's "Flash-killer", would be used. As I mentioned in my "6 Predictions for 2008", the '08 games are going to be the biggest broadband video event yet. The deal gains MSN lots of traffic and Silverlight lots of exposure and downloads, not to mention serious validation as a live streaming platform if it executes well.
ABC/Disney and MGM content on XBox LIVE
In a further move to bolster the premium-quality content available in XBox LIVE (the content offering that accompanies XBox 360), Microsoft announced that both ABC/Disney and MGM would now be providing both SD and HD content. These moves bring XBox LIVE's catalog closer to parity with iTunes, while keeping up the competition with Amazon Unbox and other stores. Separately, Microsoft said that XBox racked up 17.7 million units sold during the '07 holiday season.(correction, Microsoft press release misstated this number. Holiday sales were actually 4.3 million units, bringing cumulative units sold to date to 17.7 million, thx Karl)
XBox users have been remarkable active purchasers and downloaders using XBox LIVE, and previous briefings I've conducted with XBox executives suggest that the initiative has been particularly successful with HD. Since Xbox is purchased primarily as a gaming platform, it serves as a great Trojan horse opportunity for Microsoft to gain broadband access to the TV. Meanwhile, XBox LIVE has served as the deal unit for Zune's library as well, so these moves are important to watch as they benefit Microsoft's efforts to dislodge iPod from its perch as the leading digital media player. Only disappointment here is no ad-supported counterpart was announced for ABC programs, leaving AOL as ABC's only announced broadband syndication partner, as best I can tell.
BT and XBox 360 Integration
Microsoft leveraged Xbox 360 for another convergence play, announcing with BT that the company's "BT Vision" IPTV service would be available for XBox 360 owners as an integrated service offering. This means that no separate set-top box would be required for BT Vision subs. Though the box won't roll out until mid '08, this concept has compelling upside for both sides and could be a nice blueprint for future IPTV deals. It eliminates set-top capex for BT, while providing strong marketing benefits to both parties, helping drive broadband/TV convergence on the back of the popular XBox gaming console.
Showtime, TNT and CNN with new apps on Mediaroom, Samsung supporting Extender
Elsewhere, Microsoft announced that Showtime, TNT and CNN would be creating new apps for Microsoft's Mediaroom IPTV platform, which it says is now installed on 1M set-tops globally. And lastly, that Samsung will support Extender for Windows Media Center, which means that HD content can be sent over wired or wireless-N networks from PC to TV. Extender hasn't caught on yet, but Microsoft is continuing to push it as a bridge device. I've yet to test it, but have that on my list of to-do's.
Taken together, these announcements from Microsoft show the company's vast resources allow it to play a role in all aspects of the broadband era - software, devices, services, content, gaming, etc. Less pronounced in these deals was the company's recently added online advertising prowess, which will soon be applied to broadband video as well. Stay tuned for news on this front as '08 unfolds.