Posts for 'Xbox 360'

  • This Holiday Season, Video Apps' Purpose is to Sell Devices

    It's no secret that consumer electronics makers have long relied on content to help sell their devices.  After all, people buy devices because of what they can do, or consume, on them, just ask Apple, whose iTunes store is the linchpin to its iOS devices' success. However, as the all-important holiday season approaches, there's new evidence that video apps specifically are being embraced by CE providers (loosely defined) to drive their devices' value propositions.

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  • Xbox 360 Continues Push for Broadband Convergence

    The folks at Microsoft are determined to make Xbox 360 a winner in the free-for-all to bridge broadband-delivered video to the TV. Yesterday at E3, Microsoft announced a number of enhancements for Xbox and Xbox LIVE (the console's gaming and content marketplace), further blurring the lines between gaming and entertainment, and raising the stakes for other single-purpose convergence boxes. The new features include:

    • Instant-on streaming of 1080p HD video with 5.1 channel surround sound using proprietary Microsoft adaptive bit rate streaming technology
    • Smooth fast-forward and rewind, comparable to DVD
    • "Movie Parties" - avatar-based shared/social viewing in virtual theaters
    • Live on-demand BSKyB through Xbox in UK and Ireland
    • Rebranding of Xbox LIVE Video Marketplace as Zune Video Marketplace, which joins the 2 brands in anticipation of the upcoming launch of Zune HD; additional content planned.
    • Expansion to 10 new regions, bringing the total number of countries able to access TV shows and movies through XBox to 18
    • Facebook, Twitter and integrations

    Of course, Xbox 360's key advantage in moving into entertainment is that it has a huge installed base of early-adopter gamers to leverage; in fast Microsoft said last week that it has sold over 30M Xbox 360 consoles to date and that there are over 20M active members in the Xbox LIVE community (not only a subset are Gold members able to access some of the entertainment offerings like Netflix streaming). Little has been disclosed about Netflix Watch Instantly consumption since February when the companies said that 1M LIVE Gold members had consumed 1.5B minutes of video in the first 3 months of availability.

    Microsoft isn't forgetting that Xbox is still primarily a gaming platform; yesterday it rolled out a slew of games for Xbox, including "The Beatles: Rock Band" with Ringo and Paul making personal appearances. Xbox also unveiled its "Project Natal" a controller-less, 3D sensor that detects a gameplayer's movements. All of these will continue to drive console unit sales.

    No doubt there are plenty of other things the Xbox 360 team has planned to make the console a highly attractive "over the top" option for those considering cutting the cord on their current video service provider, though Xbox 360 is not being positioned this way - yet.

    What do you think? Post a comment now.

  • New Xbox Experience with Netflix Watch Instantly: A "Wow" Moment


    That was the reaction that VideoNuze reader and digital media public relations executive Jeff Rutherford had after downloading the "New Xbox Experience" (or NXE) to his Xbox 360 and activating Netflix Watch Instantly. Jeff relayed the details to me in an email and phone call yesterday, adding that it felt comparable to his (and many others') first experience with TiVo.

    Hyperbole? Maybe. I'm always mindful about how gadgeteers' early wows seem to melt away when new technology products reach the broader mass market. Still, the Xbox 360/Netflix Watch Instantly integration seems promising on at least three fronts.

    First, Xbox 360 is a relatively mainstream device that has its own clear value propositions, thereby driving a sizable footprint that is only going to grow. Second, Netflix's Watch Instantly is a value-add to its subscription service, requiring no incremental fees, or special new add-on hardware to Xbox 360. And third, as Jeff reported, it was very easy to get going: he was given a code to input online and when he returned to his Xbox, his Watch Instantly queue was displayed there, awaiting his on-demand selections.

    These benefits - large distribution, no extra fees, no new hardware and easy install/strong user experience - are all key to a successful broadband-to-the-TV service. But equally, if not more important is content selection and value. This is where the Xbox 360/Netflix implementation hits a speed bump, at least for now.

    As I explained recently in "Netflix Should be Aggressively Pursuing Broadcast Networks for Watch Instantly Service," today's windowing model puts the company is in a serious bind with respect to getting top-flight Hollywood films. While Jeff reported seeing some strong titles like Disney's Ratatouille (and other films he noticed carrying the Starz watermark), the reality is that Watch Instantly's catalog is still a small sliver of Netflix's DVD-by-mail catalog and will remain so for some time to come.

    Further portending the difficulties of what's ahead for Netflix as it navigates Hollywood's minefields is early word, courtesy of Joystiq and other blogs, that all of Sony's Columbia Pictures movies have been disabled for XBox 360 Netflix users, due to licensing issues. While we may all be rooting for Netflix to find deal terms with Sony and the others, the realist side of me says that Hollywood's overseers understand that the Xbox 360 integration (and others TBD) have real significance in the relentless push to digital delivery. So before the proverbial horse gets out of the barn, they want to ensure the right deals are in place for them to capture appropriate value.

    While that drama plays itself out, Netflix would be wise to do everything else it can to bolster Watch Instantly content value and selection. As I wrote in the prior post, incorporating broadcast programs should be a top priority. Also high on the list should be well-branded, high-quality broadband-only content.

    Netflix has a very interesting opportunity to accelerate the Watch Instantly adoption curve, leveraging the huge installed base of Xbox 360 users and Microsoft's UI improvements (more on NXE's new look at Engadget if you're interested). With proof of its success in hand, Netflix's negotiations with recalcitrant studios can only be helped along. Meantime, Xbox 360 is getting another strong (albeit likely temporary) value proposition to compete in the game console space. And consumers win - as Jeff pointed out - by gaining ever-better access to the content they want.

    What do you think? Post a comment now.

  • Microsoft Flexes Broadband Muscles at CES

    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 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.

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