EXCLUSIVE: Microsoft is taking a major step towards growing its entertainment footprint. I’ve learned that the software giant is in talks with former top CBS TV executive and now CBS consultant Nancy Tellem for a high level post, in which she would lead Microsoft’s expanded efforts in entertainment. Details on the position are still sketchy as I hear negotiations are still in early stages and an agreement is probably several weeks away, but it is believed to be a broad position overseeing creative and business partnerships as well as the production of original content across Microsoft platforms, including the flagship Xbox Live game and video service. Tellem would not comment.
Microsoft had been toying with the idea of a bigger entertainment presence for awhile and began quietly looking for an entertainment executive late last year when it hired Tom Schneider, a partner at Stratis LLC, to conduct a search. Microsoft aimed high, going primarily after top-level TV executives, with Marc Graboff, Peter Liguori, Jeff Gaspin and Brian Graden said to be among those considered for the role. (Graboff has since taken the helm of CORE Media, form. CKX) Because of its hefty goals, Microsoft reportedly didn’t set a timeline for the hire or didn’t even commit to necessarily getting someone on board, making it contingent on finding the right person.
I hear Tellem, which has been on headhunters’ list for virtually every high-level TV job for the past few years, got in the mix through a different route. Tellem has been passionate about the digital world for years, going back to her previous position as president of the CBS Network Television Entertainment Group. In her current role as Senior Advisor To CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves. she has been assigned to explore opportunities in the new-media space for CBS and the CW. As part of her work in that arena, she was invited by Microsoft to its headquarters in Redmond, WA to discuss such opportunities. I hear it was in the context of that conversation that Microsoft brass also shared with Tellem their idea to try to establish a stronger relationship with Hollywood — something they’d attempted to do in fits and starts in the past. Tellem reportedly offered her thoughts and suggested executives she thought may be suitable to lead Microsoft’s foray into entertainment content. It wasn’t until months later that she herself was formally approached for the job.
Microsoft has been slow to enter the entertainment space, with much younger competitors like Google already making strides. In addition to traditional software/Web companies, Microsoft has to compete with such emerging digital entertainment players as Netflix and Amazon which have amassed content and have also expanded into original production. Microsoft previously explored a partnership with former News Corp president-turned-producer Peter Chernin in 2010 to launch a TV channel for Xbox Live users. At that time, Chernin also approached Conan O’Brien’s representatives with the idea of him doing a show to anchor the new channel before the late-night comedian opted to go to TBS. Xbox Live’s biggest programming announcement to date was in October 2011 when the company unveiled a slew of content deals with more than 40 U.S. and international providers, including Bravo, Comcast, HBO GO, Verizon FiOS, Syfy and the BBC. Microsoft had said that its ultimate goal is to make its video game console a one-stop shop for entertainment where users can switch easily between video games, DVDs and entertainment content.
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Tellem hasn’t had an active day-to-day operational role at CBS since she transitioned to a consulting role in January 2010. Tellem joined the network in July 1997 as EVP Business Affairs and head of CBS Prods. One year later, she was promoted to president of CBS Entertainment and eventually rose to president of the CBS Network TV Entertainment Group, a position she held until segueing into an adviser arrangement.
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