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Brier Dudley's blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

June 9, 2011 at 6:01 PM

E3: New details on Xbox TV, Win8 cloud entertainment, Zune demise

LOS ANGELES _ Microsoft will partner with regional cable companies to bring live TV onto the Xbox, a new feature that it announced Monday at E3.

That means the TV services will be provided through cable and satellite companies, and Xbox owners will need to subscribe to their services to get the live TV onto their game console.

That’s according to Mike Delman, vice president of global marketing for Microsoft’s interactive entertainment business group.

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During an interview in Microsoft’s elaborate, two-story booth at the show, Delman also talked about Skype on the Xbox, Kinect’s new capabilities and how Xbox Live is going to become an entertainment service for Windows 8 PCs.

Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation.

Q: Do you feel you’ve got as much at E3 as the other guys?

Definitely. We don’t have an announcement like a new console but the combination of the games for the hardcore, starting to answer the question about the Kinect for the core, and having a lot more Kinect for broader audiences and the live television has played real well.

Q: Some of your announcements were just a tease, like live TV coming this fall to Xbox. Did you hold back details because partnerships aren’t done yet?

We have partnerships in certain places. It’s kind of ironic we have a lot of international partnerships before we got some of our U.S. partnerships done. The reason we talked about it is doing the platform work – doing voice, doing Bing search, getting the UI to be a modern UI, is really the hard work. Layering in the content isn’t as hard, so it’s a natural sequence.

Q: The interface seems designed to plug in another tile when you get a new content partner.

Yes, bringing in the live content – a lot of people are just layering in tonnage, they’re not putting interactivity and discoverability in it. Getting the interactivity and discoverability built, so the content can sit on top of it – getting the platform work done is the hard part.

Q: Will live TV be universal, or will it be regional TV services provided by whoever your cable provider is?

It will be tied to either a satellite broadcast company or a cable company. So in international markets, you’ll just have one provider. In the U.S., it will be bifurcated by region, by market. You’ll be a Comcast guy (in Seattle), for example.

Q: So you’ll have to be a Comcast subscriber, similar to the way you need a subscription to get the ESPN content on the Xbox now?

Yes.

Q: Will the Bing search be full Web search or just for entertainment?

It will be full search on what you have on Xbox Live. So anything that’s available on Xbox Live if you’re a gold subscriber it will search all of that, it won’t go out and search the Web.

Q: Why not add Web search as well?

Listen, when we’ve got tens of millions of pieces of content just on our service, being able to search that – music for example, we’ve got 11 million music titles now – just mastering that in a bunch of different languages is a big priority. People at this point have other ways to get out to the Web.

Q: It seems like you could point the search at Bing’s entertainment channel.

It’s just not in the plans.

Q: Because you are using Bing, can you also serve ads against the results?

That’s not part of the plan but it can be done. A lot of it will probably be serving ads within the content more than within search.

Q: It seems to be mostly about utility, making search easier than pecking out letters on the screen.

People will be doing stuff with their voice in probably a quarter the time it takes to go through the menu with the controller.

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Q: With hardcore games, Kinect is still doing auxiliary things mostly, rather than controlling the main action. When are we going to see that?

People need time to build a core, triple a title from the ground up with Kinect. People are starting to build core games from the ground up. The core doesn’t want the controller to come out of their hand, necessarily. ..In a way I think voice (with a controller in hand) will be as powerful or more powerful to the core than will gestures, and the gestures won’t be the sweeping gestures you have in the broader Kinect. I think they’ll be more pointed gestures like a head-fake or a head-butt. … People are being very smart about doing something that will enhance the core experience rather than totally change it.

Q: So will “Halo 4” be a Kinect game?

I’m sure we’ll have some Kinect in it but we’re not that far along.

Q: We’ve seen voice and gesture controls but not much use of Kinect’s scanning capability.

The scanning actually wasn’t fully enabled until the “Fun Lab” stuff unveiled (Monday).

Q: I also wondered if scanning or the finger tracking you’ve shown here would need new hardware with better sensors.

No, you can actually do that stuff now. Some of the things that will be interesting in the next generation of sensor will maybe a more high-definition RGB camera so the video conferencing is better than it is now. Skype, if it comes to fruition – you can see a lot of possibilities.

Q: I was surprised we didn’t hear about Skype in your E3 press conference, but I guess the deal hasn’t closed yet …

I’m probably out of bounds talking about it.

Q: Maybe you’ll announce Skype on Xbox at CES in January?

Whenever it clears, there’s a lot of possibility with that.

Q: Because there’s a new Nintendo console that runs hardcore games coming, will people hold off buying an Xbox or adding Kinect to their console?

I don’t know what the reaction’s going to be relative to their own platform. All I know is we’re in the fifth to sixth year of our platform and platforms have never grown in the fifth or sixth year at what we’re seeing. Other platforms is not what we’re focused on, we’re focused on how do we make Kinect, how do we make Live as compelling as possible. In a way a lot of what’s going to happen is the box doesn’t become the focus going forward, it’s what is the sensor, what is the handheld, what is the phone companion, what is the service companion and what are the experiences.

Q: Speaking of phone, I was surprised we didn’t hear about connections between Xbox and Windows Phone here at E3.

Live has been successful on the Windows Phone, Live will be built into the PC; it will be the service where you get your entertainment. We were talking about it – you will not just see consoles and handhelds at this show next year, this show’s going to morph into other devices.

Q: Will Xbox offer games on certified phones, similar to what Sony’s PlayStation is doing with Android phones?

We think there’s a lot of potential on the Windows phones. With the Nokia relationship, we’re going to have a lot more distribution of phones and Live will be the primary entertainment service. I think that’s going to be a good play for us. If we have that and the PCs to leverage, that will be a big Live base. It’s our job to make ‘buy a movie in one place and play it everywhere, buy a game in one place and play it everywhere.’ Making things portable through the devices will be a big focus of ours.

Q: Will Microsoft’s Zune service continue building up its video and music stores, or will you be working more with partners running content stores?

We’re very committed to offering music and video and TV shows on our own service through Zune.

Q: I don’t think I heard the “Z” word in the keynote. Are you phasing out the Zune brand?

In general I think what you’re going to see is us talking about ‘music’ and ‘video.’ I think what we’re coming to the realization about is putting brands on top of brands on top of brands is not as, you know – if you want to look for music, just knowing it’s under a category (music) is a good thing.

Q: Speaking of branding, Xbox brands are all over Qwest Field. Are you going to go the next step and name the whole stadium, taking that over from CenturyLink?

Not that I know of. I’m a little worried we might own the whole city of Seattle if we keep doing sponsorships with everybody.

Q: How will your services and content be part of Windows 8?

There will be a lot of similarities in design and service philosophy. Whether it’s us or Apple or anybody else, people want to be able to navigate through multiple devices in a certain ecosystem very seamlessly so we’re committed to that.

Q: Will Xbox Live be your cloud media service that works with your Windows PC as well as your phone and Xbox?

Xbox Live will the pervasive media service across devices.

Q: Right now it’s a little confusing – you’ve got Xbox Live, SkyDrive storage and other online places for media.

We have a ton of assets. Unifying the assets will be good for us and good for consumers.

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