Microsoft has been pushing to create original programming for its Xbox entertainment platform for the past two years and more details are emerging now about some of the first TV shows that will be debuting this summer.
The shows, which will start rolling out globally beginning in June, include a comedy sketch show featuring comedian Sarah Silverman and a stop-motion show featuring actor Seth Green’s Stoopid Buddy Stoodios, maker of “Robot Chicken,” according to a Bloomberg News report
Microsoft had previously announced shows including “Halo, the Television Series,” produced by Steven Spielberg; a multi-film documentary series with Academy Award winning producer Simon Chinn (“Searching for Sugar Man” ) and Emmy winning producer Jonathan Chinn (FX’s “30 Days.”); “Every Street United,” an unscripted series about street soccer, and content from the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. In addition, Microsoft said today that it’s teaming up with UK broadcaster Channel 4 to produce “Humans,” an hour-long, eight-episode drama series set in a parallel world where families own robot servants. “Humans” will debut in 2015.
The company has long been positioning the Xbox console as not just for gaming but as a hub of living room entertainment.
It began its push into creating original content for the platform with the 2012 hiring of Nancy Tellem, former president of CBS Network Television Entertainment Group. Tellem became Microsoft’s president of Entertainment & Digital Media, overseeing a new production studio — Xbox Entertainment Studios — in Los Angeles. Tellem had said earlier that she hoped to launch the first of the programs in the first or second quarter of this year.
Other recent hires include Ari Mark, a former AMC programming director, who was hired as head of unscripted programming for Xbox Entertainment Studios.
Tellem says Microsoft’s TV programming is targeted toward the Xbox’s gamer audience of mainly males between 18 and 34 years old, and will include interactive elements — such as extra scenes or games — that take advantage of Xbox technology, according to the Bloomberg report.
By getting into producing original TV content, Microsoft is joining an increasingly busy field of not only traditional broadcast and cable networks but also companies including Netflix, Amazon.com and, more recently, Sony. Amazon.com, which debuted its own original shows last year, introduced its own set-top box last week — the $99 Fire TV — that includes voice-controlled search and casual games in addition to streaming capabilities. Sony, meanwhile, which already has streaming-capable hardware in the form of its PlayStation 4 gaming console, announced last year that it would be creating original programs for the PlayStation and last month ordered its first original series.
The Xbox group has seen much churn in the past year, with the departures of former division head Don Mattrick, who left just ahead of a company-wide reorganization last July, and chief product officer Marc Whitten, who left last month. Additionally, Blair Westlake, who served as Microsoft’s liaison with the media and entertainment industries for a decade, departed in January, saying that “the organization is moving in a direction that does not fit either my expertise or my skill sets,” according to Variety.
Phil Spencer, most recently head of Microsoft Studios, last week was named the new leader of the combined Xbox and Xbox Live development teams and the Microsoft Studios team. Spencer now leads Xbox, Xbox Live, Xbox Music and Xbox Video teams, and Microsoft Studios.
[Note: The print story on this news, running in The Seattle Times April 8, 2014, is here.]