Some 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:
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 »
Microsoft 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, 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 »
EXCLUSIVE: Xbox Entertainment Studios and TV producer Stephen David (The Men Who Built America) have teamed to develop a groundbreaking new hybrid series. Utilizing still-in-development Xbox tech, the project combines interactive gaming and docudrama storytelling similar to the content David’s Stephen David Entertainment shingle has produced for History, NatGeo, TLC, and Lifetime. It’s still early out on the project, which is eyeing a 2015 debut, and Xbox is keeping mum on the technology to be used in the series. According to David, it’s “like playing television – true interaction with real history.” The currently untitled project will cover centuries of history and tackle iconic true tales from the world’s greatest civilizations. Read More »
Lightbox and XBox Studios earned a ton of press this weekend when an excavation crew unearthed hundreds of buried cartridges of Atari‘s 1982 E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial video game in a dumpsite in Alamogordo, N.M. The archaeological discovery confirmed a long-held legend in the gaming world that Atari had buried millions of unsold units of what’s believed to be one of the worst games ever made when it tanked over 30 years ago. Saturday’s dig was filmed for a docu directed by Zak Penn (X-Men: The Last Stand, Incident at Loch Ness) and produced by Oscar-winning docu producer Simon Chinn (Searching for Sugar Man, Man On Wire) and his cousin, Emmy-winning producer Jonathan Chinn (American High) for their Lightbox banner. Fuel Entertainment obtained the rights to excavate the landfill. Docu series Atari: Game Over is set to air this year on Xbox One and Xbox 360. Just how bad was the E.T. game, famously rushed into production to capitalize off of Steven Spielberg’s hit blockbuster?
In what marks the first official scripted series green light for Xbox Entertainment Studios, the entertainment arm of Microsoft’s XBox has teamed with UK broadcaster Channel 4 to co-produce Humans. The drama, which has received an eight-episode order, hails from UK production company, Kudos (Broadchurch), which has been developing the project, an adaptation of Swedish series Real Humans (watch trailer below), for more than three years. Humans will begin production in the summer for a premiere on the Xbox platform in North America and Channel 4 in the UK in 2015. Read More »
Former WB Network and Generate CEO Jordan Levin will try to combine his network development and digital skills in a new role as EVP of Xbox Entertainment Studios, reporting to Xbox Entertainment Studios president Nancy Tellem. He will be responsible for development and production of scripted and unscripted content for Xbox and other Microsoft devices — an area where the service has been slow to establish a foothold. Levin had been in play since October when Alloy Digital and Break Media merged to form Defy Media. Following Alloy’s 2012 acquisition of Generate, which Levin co-founded, he served as president of Alloy Digital in addition to his role of Generate CEO. In the merger with Break, Keith Richman was named president of Defy Media. “Jordan Levin offers a unique blend of traditional media experience, technical knowledge and entrepreneurial spirit that sets him apart from others in the industry,” said Tellem. At Xbox, Levin joins a growing team of senior executives, which includes SVP, Creative Jada Miranda. It is unclear whether Miranda will report to Jordan. “After envisioning Generate nearly 10 years ago with the goal of creating content and developing talent across converging screens and platforms, then selling our company to Alloy Digital two years ago and helping to grow it into Defy Media today, I am energized by the potential of this new position,” Levin said.
Xbox announced its first scripted series, Halo, almost a year ago but the … Read More »
EXCLUSIVE: As Nas marks the 20th anniversary of his groundbreaking debut album Illmatic, a half-hour series project loosely based on his life as a hip hop artist in the 1990s is getting off the ground with a deal at XBox Entertainment Studios. Titled Street Dreams, the project, from Jamie Patricof and Lynette Howell’s Electric City Entertainment (The Place Beyond The Pines), is set in the 1990s in Long Island City’s Queensbridge housing complex, where Nas grew up, and takes a look at music, family and the trials and tribulations of the rap game. Street Dreams is being written/directed by Jonathan Levine, who also grew up in New York, spending his formative years in the 1990s. New York in the 90s was the backdrop for his coming of age feature The Wackness, winner of the Audience Award at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. Street Dreams is now being developed, with Nas involved in the writing and music. His manager, Anthony Seleh, executive produces with Patricof, Howell and Levine. Patricof and Howell recently developed bodybuilding half-hour Muscle for HBO. Xbox has been actively buying scripted projects though it is yet to launch its first series. It also has in the works a pro skaters comedy series from writer Ian Edelman.
The mid-season premiere of AMC’s The Walking Dead is set to air Sunday night, but some Xbox users got a unscheduled sneak peek when Season 4′s ninth episode appeared for free on Xbox Video this morning. It has since been made unavailable to Xbox users. AMC confirmed the slip-up happened but declined to comment on how the incident occurred. The zombie drama is already one of the most pirated shows on air.
Related: AMC’s ‘The Walking Dead’ Season 4 Debut Smashes Records
Xbox, which has greenlighted its first scripted series, Halo, and its first reality series with the street soccer competition Every Street United, is now entering the documentary arena with a multi-film series about the start of the digital revolution. It hails from Oscar-winning documentary producer Simon Chinn (Man On Wire, Searching For Sugar Man), his Emmy-winning cousin Jonathan Chinn (American High) and their newly launched Lightbox, a company focused on creating non-fiction TV programming. “Our careers have taken different paths, but we have always had a strongly shared sensibility and approach to non-fiction – mine at the more commercial end of feature documentary, Jonathan’s at the more thoughtful end of reality,” said Simon Chinn.
Each film in the xBox documentary series will be helmed by a different director and will range from an hour to feature length. Zak Penn (X-Men 2) has signed on to direct the first film, which investigates the events surrounding the great video game burial of 1983. The Atari Corporation, faced with overwhelmingly negative response to “ET the Video Game,” buried millions of unsold game cartridges in the middle of the night, in the small town of Alamogordo, New Mexico. Lightbox is repped by CAA and Jeanne Newman.
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.
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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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?
EXCLUSIVE: Xbox Entertainment Studios, which announced in May its Steven Spielberg-helmed live-action Halo TV show, is bolstering its executive ranks under President Nancy Tellem. Lydia Antonini has been hired as SVP of Innovation Labs after serving as consultant and producer for the Microsoft-owned studio. She previously exec produced the Emmy-nominated live-action Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn series and served at Warner Bros. as Director of Digital Content where she led creative on McG’s Aim High, Bryan Singer’s H+, and Kevin Tancharoen’s Mortal Kombat: Legacy web series. Antonini is a strategic advisor for the bilingual digital MiTu Network and worked with Fullscreen, dance group Jabbawockeez, and TakePartTV.
Related: Next-Gen Xbox One Unveiled With Content Including Spielberg-Produced ‘Halo’ Series Read More »
David Bloom is a Deadline contributor
Microsoft finally unveiled the Xbox One, its next-generation successor to the Xbox 360 game console, with an impressive demonstration of a voice- and gesture-controlled device focused more on integrating and controlling all kinds of entertainment and social capabilities far beyond just playing videogames. The #XboxReveal event at Microsoft’s Seattle-area campus included the announcement by Xbox Entertainment Studios President Nancy Tellem that Steven Spielberg will create a new live-action TV show based on the “Halo” game franchise. In a video, Spielberg, a longtime game fan who also oversaw the launch of the DreamWorks Interactive game studio in the 1990s, briefly said “the Halo universe is an amazing opportunity to be at an intersection where technology and myth-making converge.”
Related: Nancy Tellem Talks Microsoft’s Xbox Entertainment Studios Read More »
David Bloom is a Deadline contributor
Microsoft’s Larry Hryb said on his blog the May 21 announcement will be held on the Microsoft campus and be simulcast on Spike TV and Xbox’s online outlets. “On that day, we’ll share our vision for Xbox and give you a real taste of the future,” he wrote. The latest Xbox has been long expected as both Sony and Microsoft have moved to update their aging video game consoles, which also can stream online video and music content from sources such as Hulu Plus and Netflix, play DVDs and CDs and more. In February, Sony did an initial rollout of PlayStation 4, which showcased the games that will be available when it launches along with some technical details. That event was mostly targeting game developers, however, and did not specify a launch date, system specifications or price. Both companies are expected to hold more extensive rollouts of their new devices as part of the E3 video game trade show June 11-13 in Los Angeles.
Related: Microsoft Reveals Xbox Community Data
Related: Microsoft Reveals Xbox Community Data
Nancy Tellem has always been a pioneer, first as a woman in the traditional TV entertainment biz and then as #2 to Les Moonves at CBS Inc. When she transitioned to a consulting role in January 2010, Tellem indulged her passion for the digital world full-time. Meetings with Microsoft to discuss CBS/CW evolved until June 2012 when, after three months of negotiations, Microsoft announced her appointment as Entertainment & Digital Media president. Now she’s expanding her turf while Microsoft expands its entertainment footprint. At the ’D: Dive Into Media’ industry event late Monday, she spilled about her vision for entertainment on Xbox and about her new Los Angeles-based Xbox Entertainment Studios. But Microsoft and innovation do not go hand in hand: it’s been a digital slowpoke from the beginning and now can’t even make a decent computer operating system. Not only is Windows 8 a bomb, but its brand new Surface tablet is a bust. Which leads us to successful Xbox.
Tellem said that, during 2013, Microsoft is planning to launch more than 40 new voice-controlled customized TV and entertainment apps on Xbox. “We want to partner with the Industry to bring entertainment into a new era,” she told the panel. “It’s an era when interactive entertainment becomes the greatest form of all entertainment – and we couldn’t be more excited to play a part in it.” Read More »
Related: Nancy Tellem Talks Microsoft’s Xbox Entertainment Studios
Microsoft is one of the most secretive companies in the world. So it’s news that Yusuf Mehdi, corporate VP of Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Business, on Monday night released new data about entertainment usage on Xbox and how it’s “exploded”. He claims there are now more than 76 million Xbox 360 consoles around the world — or 3 times the number of original Xbox consoles sold. In 2012, the amount of TV and other entertainment offerings on Xbox almost tripled, Mehdi claims, now surpassing 100 custom voice-controlled TV and entertainment apps on Xbox LIVE. “Yes, we started with video games, but we have been on a journey to make Xbox the center of every household’s entertainment.” Here’s more, according to a Microsoft news release about Mehdi’s talk at the ‘D: Dive Into Media’ conference:
Living room entertainment is in its largest evolutionary period since the transitions of black-and-white to color, and from standard definition to high definition. The Xbox 360, alongside Microsoft’s entertainment industry partners, is at the forefront of that evolution as one of the only devices that brings all forms of entertainment together in one device, while making access to content easy and providing new ways to interact with existing programming.
Social has been an important part of Xbox from the beginning, and that’s true today more than ever. The Xbox LIVE community has grown to 46 million members, a 15% growth since last year.
2012 also marked the Xbox’s biggest year for entertainment and games usage. Users enjoyed more than 18 billion hours of entertainment in 2012, with entertainment app usage growing 57% year over year globally. Last year in the United States, Xbox LIVE Gold members averaged 87 hours per month on Xbox, an increase of 10% year over year.
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The latest report should carry an asterisk. The formal results show this to be the first quarter in which Microsoft recorded a net loss — due to the previously announced $6.2B writedown of ad sales operation aQuantive, as well as a deferral of $540M in revenue from a Windows Upgrade Offer. With that included, the company had a net loss of $492M — down from a $5.9B net profit in the period last year — on revenues of $18.1B, +4%. The revenue figure matched analyst expectations. Earnings per share also would beat forecasts if you strip out the write-down; without it the company generated 73 cents a share vs predictions for 62 cents. Microsoft says that gains are largely due to improvements in sales of desktop and infrastructure software. Revenues for the Entertainment and Devices Division were up 20% to $292M with the addition of Skype, which the company bought last year. Microsoft shipped 1.1M Xbox 360 consoles, down from 1.7M in the period last year. The company says that the console market has been soft. Even so, its Xbox Live membership was up more than 15% as the company “continued to add differentiated gaming and entertainment opportunities.” CEO Steve Ballmer says that Microsoft is “fast approaching the most exciting launch season in Microsoft history” with updates to Windows, Office, Windows Server, and Windows Phone. Shares are up 2.5% in after-market trading.
The business media rumor mill can be put to rest. Microsoft made it official today with the unveiling of its Microsoft Surface Windows 8 tablet. Windows president Steve Sinofsky said today at a media gathering in Los Angeles that the specs include a 10.6-inch widescreen display custom-designed for Surface. “Surface works great for entertainment,” Sinofsky said. Will it be successful and a potent challenger to rival Apple’s iPad? It’s a big shift for Microsoft, which has focused on workplace software — the exception being its successful Xbox gaming console. It’s also previously seen failures selling its own branded hardware, i.e., its Zune music players. Regardless, the move would be a page-turner for the company and a clear follow in Apple’s footsteps in controlling both hardware and software for its devices. Microsoft has traditionally let its customers — such as Dell and HP — handle design and marketing of its hardware.
(Steve Ballmer photo: Getty Images)