When the Xbox One was revealed for the first time last year, one of the widest criticisms thrown at it by gamers was the lack of emphasis on games. What was assumed to be the console’s primary function felt lost in the shuffle amidst talk of integration with other entertainment systems, extensive demonstration of the (admittedly impressive) voice and gesture controls, and much talk of sports. Also, a dog.
Over the next few months we saw Microsoft do quite a few 180 degree turns on policies for used games and indie development, but one thing remained consistent: the selling of the Xbox One as a single hub for entertainment and social media.
Among the announcements that came with the Xbox One’s reveal was that of a new TV show based on Halo, which will be executive produced by Steven Spielberg. Since then, news of the show’s development has gone somewhat quiet, but Microsoft’s president of entertainment and digital, Nancy Tellem, opened up about the company’s future plans during a Variety event last week. Tellem stated that original programming is set to launch on Xbox Live in the first or second quarter of next year, and that the shows will be available on the Xbox 360 and Xbox One.
Tellem admitted that getting these shows on the road has been slower than she anticipated, since it’s been difficult to explain to Hollywood producers exactly how the whole thing is going to work. That’s not surprising given that her own explanation of the plan is somewhat confusing, possibly to due to the meaning being lost in the transition from spoken to written word:
“We aren’t Netflix, we aren’t Amazon, we’re a different animal. We’re neither or we’re a little like them. It all depends. The lack of black and white and this is the template and this is what we’re following is very difficult. As we continue to do deals everyone’s going to get more comfortable.”
The most immediate difference between current digital services and Microsoft’s planned original programming for Xbox consoles is that virtually everyone in the developed world has a laptop or computer at home with which to sign up to Amazon or Netflix, whereas a relatively limited number of people own an Xbox One or an Xbox 360. Similarly, the shows based on Halo or Quantum Break will be of primary interest only to gamers, whereas more or less anyone can drop into a show like Netflix’s Orange is the New Black.
Presumably one of the biggest challenges that Tellem is facing in Hollywood is that of cost. Pitching a TV show that can’t be watched without a specific game console is going to be a hard sell, and there’s a big question of how to justify production costs for these shows – and what the production costs will be. Microsoft could potentially charge viewers for each episode of the show, but that might not go down well when an Xbox Live subscription is required to access them in the first place. At the very least, Spielberg’s endorsement as executive producer should ease the way for other investors to make their own deals.
A decision has apparently not yet been made regarding whether or not to make the content 100% exclusive to Xbox consoles: as Tellem says, “We’re trying to focus on whether it’s only on Xbox or best on Xbox.” It would make sense to allow people to watch the shows on their home computers as well, but that would somewhat undermine Microsoft’s attempt to make the Xbox One the ultimate entertainment hub. Tellem admits that the TV shows are part of an overall effort to convince people to buy an Xbox console:
“Everyone recognizes how important content is in device adoption. There’s always talk about what apps are available on your phone or what apps you can get. It can be an incentive to buy something or not to buy something.”
While it’s absolutely possible that Xbox original programming could succeed, it’s difficult to see how the availability of a Halo TV show would be much of an incentive for a consumer who doesn’t own an Xbox console and has never played Halo. Similarly, even the most dedicated sports fan is unlikely to throw down $500 for a games console just to get a few additional interactive features on NFL broadcasts.
Probably the most appealing of the projects that Microsoft has in development at the moment is Remedy Games’ Quantum Break and its accompanying TV show, which will apparently impact upon one another depending on each individual player’s approach. As a new IP it welcomes all gamers, and based on early details looks innovative enough to act as an enticing exclusive for the Xbox One.
Tell us in the comments if you’ve warmed to the idea of using your Xbox to watch TV shows, or if you think Microsoft would be better off keeping the focus on games.