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Five Reasons Why Microsoft’s Xbox Entertainment Studios Is An Ex-Empire

By | Wednesday July 23, 2014 @ 8:44pm PDT

Five Reasons Why Microsoft’s Xbox Entertainment Studios Is An Ex-EmpireSome in Hollywood may have been surprised by Microsoft’s announcement that Xbox Entertainment Studios, its much-touted experiment in new kinds of interactive TV programming and headed by former CBS President Nancy Tellem, would be shut down. But really, didn’t we see this coming? Here are five reasons why the announcement was, ultimately, long in coming but not long in shock value, at least to veteran watchers of the uneasy, evolving boundary between Hollywood and Silicon Valley:

Deadline tech column David Bloom Shuffle the Deck. Of course, the greatest “sin” committed by Tellem and her crew is being an organizational outlier when the new guy took over. XES was launched two years ago under longtime Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who ran the company for 14 years before retiring in February.

The new CEO, cloud-computing specialist Satya Nadella, had no particular organizational connection with Xbox before taking over. And indeed, in announcing 18,000 layoffs last week (which particularly hit Microsoft’s recently acquired Nokia mobile divisions), Nadella signaled his company focus would be in the cloud, and on mobile. And without buy-in from the company’s new chief, XES was vulnerable — a common situation in Hollywood, where entertainment properties are routinely marooned when their institutional champions depart. Read More »

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Microsoft To Shut Down Xbox Entertainment Studios

Nellie Andreeva

Microsoft To Shut Down Xbox Entertainment StudiosThis morning’s announcement by Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella of one of the largest layoffs in tech history, a plan to cut 18,000 jobs, triggered a whirlwind of speculation about the future of the fledgling Xbox Entertainment Studios. In a memo, Phil Spencer, head of Microsoft’s Xbox division and Microsoft Studios, just confirmed that the company will close the Entertainment Studios in the coming months. Nancy Tellem, Jordan Levin and some of the XES team will stay on for some time to shepherd original programming already in production, including the documentary series about technology Signal to Noise and the Halo game franchise extensions, digital feature Halo: Nightfall and the Halo TV series, which will continue as planned with Microsoft’s 343 Industries and Amblin. Xbox also will continue to support and deliver interactive sports content like ‘NFL on Xbox.’ XBox’s app partnerships are not impacted.
The demise of Xbox Entertainment Studios underscores how hard it is for tech companies, especially of the scale of Microsoft, to get into the content business. The decision appears sudden as just a couple of months ago, Xbox Entertainment Studios unveiled a very extensive first development slate, which included dramas, live-action and animated comedies, unscripted and event series. Levin was brought in as EVP in charge of development only six months ago.
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Microsoft To Cut Up To 18,000 Jobs This Year As It Focuses On Mobile And Cloud Computing

By | Thursday July 17, 2014 @ 6:31am PDT

Microsoft To Cut Up To 18,000 Jobs This Year As It Focuses On Mobile And Cloud ComputingMicrosoft shares opened +3.2% this morning after the company disclosed that it will cut its workforce by about 14% –far more than many analysts anticipated. The layoffs will hit hardest at the Nokia Devices and Services phone handset business, acquired in April. “We are moving now to start reducing the first 13,000 positions, and the vast majority of employees whose jobs will be eliminated will be notified over the next six months,” CEO Satya Nadella says in a company wide email. Microsoft expects the restructuring to result in as much as $1.6B in pre-tax charges over the next four quarters. That will include as much as $800M for severance and related benefit costs, and up to $800M in asset-related charges.

The company’s biggest layoff since 2009 reflects Nadella’s plan to shift Microsoft’s focus away from its longtime strength in PC software toward other areas that show more promise. “Our passion is to enable people to thrive in this mobile-first and cloud-first world,” he told employees last week.

The CEO said today that Microsoft will offer severance and job transition help to those axed. Everyone “can expect to be treated with the respect they deserve for their contributions to this company.”

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E3: Microsoft Goes Games First And Only In Briefing

By | Monday June 9, 2014 @ 11:32am PDT

Xbox briefing 12 Phil SpencerIt didn’t take Phil Spencer, Head of Xbox for Microsoft, long to tack back from last year’s entertainment focus to one purely about games, which is all he said he would talk about during this morning’s presentation to media and analysts ahead of the big E3 videogame conference in Los Angeles. “This generation (of game consoles) is off to the hottest start in history,” Spencer said. “This benefits everyone…especially gamers.”

That games-only focus is a far cry from last year, when the company spent much of its annual E3 pre-briefing touting the cross-media capabilities of its just-announced Xbox One console and interactive video programming to come from the Xbox Entertainment Studios. The interactive programming has been slow to arrive. More importantly, Xbox One sales have been good, but despite some extremely impressive technology, still lag well behind Sony’s competing PS4, which like the Xbox One launched in November and costs $100 less. The Xbox One’s stumbling launch, with controversies over policies some gamers called anti-consumer and the departure of Xbox chief Don Mattrick to Zynga, didn’t help either. Read More »

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Xbox Adds HBO & Showtime Apps, Twitter Integration

By | Wednesday June 4, 2014 @ 3:30pm PDT

MiniGuide_Twitter Xbox 24Microsoft is beefing up the online video entertainment offerings of its Xbox Live online service by 25 percent, adding apps from HBO, Showtime, various Disney channels, Comedy Central and dozens of others it said will become available sometime this year. The company also is integrating Twitter and Twitter’s short-video service Vine into the service, providing ready access to the social-media services while watching TV through the Xbox One console. That deep integration will allow people to tweet about a show onscreen as they’re watching it, see in the program guide what shows are getting a lot of tweets and to follow what those who are connected with a show are posting.

Larry-Hryb-Major-Nelson__140604221036Larry Hryb, a longtime Xbox executive, said in a video released today that the new approach with Twitter will make it easy for fans to talk about the shows they’re watching. It’s clearly an attempt by Microsoft to pull the so-called “second-screen” experience — watching a show while using social media on a tablet or phone — back into a single device. The integration looks slickly done in the video, but it will be interesting to see whether users will follow Microsoft’s lead. Will they use either a controller or perhaps their handheld devices with a remote-control app to tweet through the TV screen instead of directly through their phone? More will likely be disclosed in next Monday’s big presentation from Microsoft ahead of the E3 video game convention in Los Angeles. Read More »

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Microsoft Execs Pitch Advertisers On Xbox’s Appeal To Millennials

By | Monday April 28, 2014 @ 1:47pm PDT

Microsoft execs made a lot of promises, but had little to show, in their Newfront presentation to attract advertising for their Xbox Originals shows. Xbox_Entertainment_Studios_logoI know from experience that building something substantial won’t be easy and will take time,” Xbox Entertainment Studios President Nancy Tellem told th NYC gathering. But with 85M Xbox owners, the Internet delivered programming for the game console “is in a unique position to reach audiences everywhere…This is where TV wants to be.” 

Based on clips from Possibilia — a short film that gives viewers the ability to choose the direction of the story — TV wants to be schizophrenic. The film shows two characters in a troubled relationship whose feelings change with the click of a button as they constantly ask questions such as  ”Are you going to stay or are you going to go?”…”You don’t think I can handle unfamiliar territory?” …”Why is it so hard to be a human being?”

The company is “laser focused” on appealing to Millennials, EVP Jordan Levin says adding that “Microsoft understands what it takes to achieve these goals.” As you might imagine, the original shows are heavy on fantasy (as in the drama Humans planned for 2015) and goofy gags (as in Extraordinary Believers). A series of six interactive documentaries from Jonathan Chinn, called Signal To Noise, will focus on technology-related matters including a dig this past weekend Read More »

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Does Future Of Microsoft’s Xbox One Depend On ‘Titanfall’ Success?

By | Monday March 10, 2014 @ 4:45pm PDT

Microsoft_Xbox_One_logoTuesday’s debut of the much-anticipated video game Titanfall likely will be a pivotal early moment for Microsoft’s newest console, the Xbox One, which has struggled to keep up with Sony’s cheaper PlayStation 4 since both launched in November. Almost four months in, Sony has sold 6 million PS4s, compared to 4 million Xbox Ones. With the Xbox One costing $100 more than the PS4, and with few other distinctive titles, Microsoft is hoping a successful Titanfall launch will keep it in the game.

Related: Microsoft’s Xbox One Breaks Sales Record, Moves 1M Units In 24 Hours

TitanfallDistributed by Electronic Arts, Titanfall is a rip-roaring online-only take on standard tropes of science fiction and first-person shooters, from creators of the Call of Duty franchise. It initially will be exclusive to the Xbox One, then also be launched for Windows-based PCs and Microsoft’s older Xbox 360 console. It is not scheduled to be available on Sony consoles, an unusual move by a big third-party publisher such as EA that normally wants to make its games as widely available as possible.

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YouTube Networks Launch Global Online Video Association

By | Tuesday February 18, 2014 @ 1:28pm PST

GOVANine digital media companies have joined forces to create the Global Online Video Association, the first-ever org designed to represent and promote the growing digital content industry. Multi-channel networks Big Frame, BroadbandTV, Collective Digital Studios, DECA, Discovery Digital Networks/Revision3, Fullscreen, Maker Studios, Magnet Media, and MiTu Networks are backing the nonprofit corporation which was announced today during the inaugural Digital Entertainment World conference in LA. Collective Digital Studio SVP Strategy and Sales Paul Kontonis will serve as executive director of GOVA. Top of mind for member digital companies is drawing more advertisers to the nontraditional space to make digital ad sales more profitable, given that GOVA member companies rep 10 billion monthly video views online. In its first year GOVA will focus on building awareness with and relationships between advertisers, consumers, and content partners like YouTube, Amazon and Microsoft. “Online video has exploded for consumers and advertisers, and is a terrific new opportunity for brands to reach new audiences,” said Jason Krebs, Head of Sales, Maker Studios. “GOVA will help us create awareness faster amongst consumers and accelerate adoption by marketers.”

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Deadline Big Media 71 – The Twitter Loves Newbs Podcast

By and | Friday February 7, 2014 @ 3:02pm PST

Deadline BIG MEDIA ep 71In this week’s podcast, Deadline’s executive editor David Lieberman and host David Bloom look at CBS’ new Thursday night football deal with the NFL; Twitter’s complexity issue with newbies, and Disney’s red-hot quarter fueled by Thor and new franchise Frozen. They’ll also take a gander at those newly available HBO financial details and how they stack up against Netflix, even as Time Inc. braces for layoffs after its imminent spinoff; and question whether Microsoft’s new boss will be much different from the old boss, particularly with the company’s first boss as his new technology adviser.

Deadline Big Media podcast 71 (.MP3 version)
Deadline Big Media podcast 71 (.M4A version)
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Microsoft Taps Satya Nadella To Be CEO

By | Tuesday February 4, 2014 @ 6:47am PST

After a search process that seemed as drawn out as a season of American Idol, Microsoft decided to stick with an insider to replace Steve Ballmer in the software company’s top job. Satya NadellaA 22-year veteran of the company, Satya Nadella was EVP of the Cloud and Enterprise group, and formerly oversaw the Bing search service. Microsoft also says that Bill Gates will become more active in a new role on the board as Founder and Technology Advisor, where he’ll help Nadella “in shaping technology and product direction.” An independent director, John Thompson, will replace Gates as board chairman.

The execs have their work cut out for them: Over the last five years Microsoft shares have lagged rivals led by Apple and Google as the company’s Windows-based products struggled to find a foothold in the world of smartphones and tablets. “The opportunity ahead for Microsoft is vast, but to seize it, we must focus clearly, move faster and continue to transform,” Nadella says. “A big part of my job is to accelerate our ability to bring innovative products to our customers more quickly.” Gates says that Nadella is the right pick because he’s “a proven leader with hard-core engineering skills, business vision and the ability to bring people together. His vision for how technology will be used and experienced around the world is exactly what Microsoft needs as the company enters its next chapter of expanded product innovation and growth.” Here’s the company’s release:

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Deadline Big Media 66 – The CES Preview Podcast

Deadline Big Media podcast 66In this week’s podcast, Deadline’s executive editor David Lieberman and host David Bloom preview the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show, which David L. will be covering in Las Vegas.

Among the big trends the Davids say we can expect from the mammoth show: big, big TVs showing ultra-high-definition “4K” images; new technology from Google to help transmit that high-bandwidth video to screens of all sizes; and what this all will mean for cable TV companies, telcos, satellite TV providers, theatrical exhibition and Hollywood itself.

They also look at other likely areas of focus at the show, and preview appearances by the CEOs of Sony, Yahoo! and Twitter, and possibly even a new CEO for Microsoft, which is back on the show floor after last year’s surprising absence.

Deadline Big Media podcast 66 (.MP3 version)
Deadline Big Media podcast 66 (.M4A version)
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Microsoft’s Xbox One Breaks Sales Record, Moves 1M Units In 24 Hours

By | Sunday November 24, 2013 @ 4:00pm PST

Microsoft‘s new Xbox One console moved as many as 1 million units in 24 hours this week as it smashed records in 14 countries including the US and U.K., the company boasted over the weekend. The Xbox One, the first new Xbox design in 7 years, is priced at $500 a pop and billed as not just a video gaming system but an entertainment console which includes Kinect integration, voice commands, videoconferencing, Blu-ray, and media functions. Sony’s competing PlayStation 4 debuted just over a week ago in North America, also selling 1 million units in a day.

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Deadline Big Media 60: The Games Yes Movies No Episode

By | Friday November 22, 2013 @ 7:08pm PST

Listen to (and share) episode 60 of our audio podcast “Deadline Big Media With David Lieberman.”

Deadline’s financial editor talks with host David Bloom about Sony’s big investor meeting this week and the changes and cuts it’s promising to make to enhance the health of its “vital” entertainment unit; the race between Sony and Microsoft as each finally launches long-awaited next-generation videogame consoles; more big cuts at the long-suffering Tribune Co.’s newspapers; and John Malone and Charter Communications look like they’re about to go hunting for more cable companies.

Deadline Big Media Episode 60 (.MP3 version)
Deadline Big Media Episode 60 (.M4A version)
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Xbox One’s Hollywood Launch Promotes Games But Not Its Future In Entertainment

By | Friday November 22, 2013 @ 11:29am PST

A week after its biggest competitor’s successful launch, Microsoft rolled out its own next-generation video game console, the Xbox One, in a midnight party in Hollywood amid hundreds of gamers and a fair smattering of rappers, actors, YouTube personalities and other celebrities of varying wattage. The Xbox One is $100 more expensive than Sony’s PS4 at $499, but more technically capable thanks to included motion, face and voice sensors. Sony’s console sold 1 million units on its launch day a week ago. Both companies will be fighting for consumer attention this holiday season, which kicks off officially in one more week.

Related: Retailers Brace For Holiday-Season Price Wars

At last night’s event at the Milk Studios in Hollywood, as electronic dance music star Deadmau5 and other DJs spun on a stage, the company showed off its biggest games — including some 22 titles exclusive to the platform — to fans who played for hours ahead of the machine’s first official sale at 12:01 AM. But all the night’s noise obscured Microsoft’s broader push, which is that the machine can integrate all kinds of entertainment while easing access to them all. One of the machine’s niftiest tricks is a slick and relatively reliable ability to seamlessly switch between, or even simultaneously watch/use/play, a TV show, the Internet and a game with virtually no delays. The device’s sensors can recognize when a person has sat down in front of it, and automatically open up that person’s customized interface on screen. It can even do so for more than one person at a time. Voice and gesture commands work pretty well, though many reviewers have said the gee-whiz tech isn’t reliable enough yet to completely replace using a hand controller to navigate.

When they introduced the console six months ago, Microsoft reps talked up new kinds of interactive programming being created by Microsoft Studios under former CBS honcho Nancy Tellem. But last night only games were on display. They didn’t even demonstrate the offerings for fantasy football as part of their new deal with the NFL.

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Sony Shares Rise Following Successful PS4 Launch

By | Monday November 18, 2013 @ 12:15pm PST

It’s been years since we’ve seen new models of the major gaming consoles battle head-to-head in the marketplace. And Sony‘s PlayStation 4, in its first weekend, has set a high bar in initial sales for Microsoft to try to beat later this week when it releases the Xbox One. Sony’s stock is +1.5% thus far today — when most stocks are down — following the company’s announcement yesterday that it sold 1M PS4s in the first 24 hours after Friday when it was released in the U.S. and Canada. ”Sales remain very strong in North America, and we expect continued enthusiasm as we launch the PlayStation 4 in Europe and Latin America on November 29,” Sony Computer Entertainment CEO Andrew House added. Even so, Benchmark Co analyst Mike Hickey notes that the roll out was “marred” by reports of a problem: “A pulsing blue light in the centre of the console, nicknamed the Blue Light of Death in tribute to the Xbox 360′s infamous ‘Red Ring of Death’, has reportedly heralded the doom on hundreds of bricked PS4s,” he says in a report. A company spokesman in Tokyo told Bloomberg that these are “isolated incidents and represent a very small percentage of total units shipped to consumers to date.” Still, Sony posted several suggestions for consumers to fix the problem “while we investigate.” Read More »

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Microsoft Makes Last-Minute Push For Xbox One’s Entertainment Capabilities

By | Friday November 8, 2013 @ 3:00am PST

David Bloom is a Deadline contributor

Two weeks before its next-generation game console hits stores, Microsoft made a big last-minute push today to emphasize the entertainment capabilities of the Xbox One, unveiling 19 online video-app providers for the machine in the U.S. They include the NFL, ESPN, Netflix and Hulu Plus, a number of which are already on the current-gen Xbox 360’s Xbox Live Gold online service.

In press briefings and one of two blog posts that launched this morning, the company emphasized the Xbox One’s entertainment providers. A second blog post talked up the gee-whiz tech capabilities of the Xbox One, such as its ability to recognize users by voice and face and to understand voice commands to seamlessly control and switch between games, online video services, live TV feeds from a cable set-top box, Internet searches, and an online program guide.

In the U.S., the video provider list includes Amazon Instant Video, Crackle, CWTV, ESPN, FOX NOW, FXNOW, HBO GO (listed as “coming soon”), Hulu Plus, Machinima, MUZU TV, Netflix, Redbox Instant by Verizon, Target Ticket, TED, The NFL on Xbox One, Twitch, Univision Deportes, Verizon FiOS TV and VUDU. The provider lists for a dozen other countries that also will roll out in the first wave of sales are shorter, and vary substantially from country to country.

Some of the machine’s capabilities are indeed impressive, like the Xbox One’s integration of live NFL game statistics with a user’s fantasy football teams, displaying scoring updates for a user’s team members on a small portion of the TV screen as they happen. Read More »

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China To Lift Ban On Sale Of Video Game Consoles: Reports

By | Friday September 27, 2013 @ 5:16am PDT

In what could be good news for the likes of Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo, China is moving to repeal a 13-year ban on the sale of video game consoles within the country. The news came in a set of rules issued by the State Council today with regard to the new free-trade zone in Shanghai. Foreign companies will be able to sell their products throughout China if the companies operate sales and production within the zone, The Wall Street Journal said. Each device, however, will have to be approved by the Culture Ministry. The relaxation of the ban comes a few days after reports that Microsoft was partnering with Chinese internet TV company BesTV to develop family games and related services. The Journal points out that consoles have long been available in China through “unofficial channels”, but that players prefer gaming on computers and phones. Consoles were initially banned in 2000 over concern that gaming would harm young people. No timeline has been set for consoles to reenter the market.

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Xbox One Quietly Gets Launch Date, Slightly Faster Brains

By | Wednesday September 4, 2013 @ 4:51pm PDT

David Bloom is a Deadline contributor.

Microsoft finally, and quietly, made official a November 22 launch date in the U.S. and a dozen other countries for its long-in-coming new game console, the Xbox One, according to a company blog post by Corporate VP Yusuf Mehdi. The base model will sell for $499 in the States. The date means the Xbox One will hit stores a week after its next-gen archrival, Sony’s PS4, launches in North America and Europe for $399, and a week ahead of “Black Friday,” the year’s biggest shopping day. November 22 also is the date Microsoft launched its current-generation Xbox 360 eight years ago. Mehdi’s post said the company has sold out its pre-launch allotment of Xbox Ones for the U.S. and would offer a “limited number” of additional “Day One” machines for special order. With full production underway, the company has goosed up the machine’s processing speeds, making the CPU about 10 percent more powerful than originally announced specs. Read More »

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Apple TV Gets Disney Channels App, Microsoft’s Xbox Offers Time Warner Cable

By | Tuesday August 27, 2013 @ 9:26pm PDT

Apple and Microsoft have added new channels to their streaming video devices that boost their available content. It’s a step forward for both gadgets but doesn’t break the a la carte wall just yet. Apple TV was upgraded today to include apps for Disney channels – pay TV subscription required — Vevo and the Weather Channel, while Microsoft’s Xbox 360 console added a subscription-contingent Time Warner Cable app. The latter offers access to 300 TV channels including CNN, AMC and Comedy Central. Blair Westlake, corporate VP of Microsoft’s media and entertainment group, told the Wall Street Journal’s Digits blog that his company had considered licensing channels directly from media companies to create a service similar to the kinds of online cable TV products planned by Intel and Sony. “We looked at it and said if we can deliver an app or apps like the one we are lighting up today” with Time Warner Cable, that’s “really what people expect.”

Related: Will Apple Be Able To Allow Ad-Skipping In Its TV Platform?

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