Microsoft is rolling out more television services on the Xbox 360 games console. It has announced deals with leading television programming providers, including Comcast and Verizon FiOS in the United States, the BBC, Channel 4, Channel Five and LoveFilm in the United Kingdom, ZDF in Germany, RTVE in Spain and MediaSet in Italy. Integration with the Kinect controller will allow gesture and voice navigation. Having the BBC iPlayer available on Xbox is a major breakthrough for both the BBC and Microsoft, which will now make it available to all Xbox Live members in the United Kingdom without requiring a subscription.
Don Mattrick, the president of the interactive entertainment business at Microsoft, described this as “a major step toward realizing our vision to bring you all the entertainment you want, shared with the people you care about, made easy.” He said that combined with the Kinect gesture interface and Bing voice search it “will make TV and entertainment more personal, social and effortless.”
The unique selling points are the Kinect gesture user interface and Bing voice control. Gone are the days of managing a handful of remote controls, trying to remember what movies are available from what service, and hunting back and forth across television inputs, claims Microsoft. Apparently all you need to say is “Xbox, Bing” and the programme name to search for a title.
“We are continually evolving the television experience to bring Xfinity TV subscribers more personalized ways to search, find and watch the content they love,” said Sam Schwartz, the president of converged products and Comcast. “Our recently launched next-generation Xfinity TV platform is enabling us to bring Xfinity On Demand to a gaming console for the first time, and Kinect’s voice and gesture controls will offer our customers an innovative way to discover and enjoy Xfinity On Demand’s huge library of top shows and movies.”
“Microsoft and Verizon share a common vision to transform the ways people enjoy and interact with the entertainment they want — what Verizon calls the borderless lifestyle,” said Eric Bruno, vice president of consumer and mass business product management for Verizon.
A number of television and video providers are already available on the Xbox 360, including AT&T U-verse, Netflix and Hulu+ in the United States, BSkyB in the United Kingdom, Canal+ in France and Foxtel in Australia.
“Nearly a year ago, AT&T U-verse became the first TV provider in the U.S. to launch live TV on Xbox 360. Now we look forward to working with Microsoft to deliver even more innovative features that will allow U-verse TV customers to use voice and gesture controls to manage their TV experience,” said Jeff Weber, vice president of video services at AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets.
Television brands are also joined by online video services like YouTube, Vevo and Dailymotion.
Simon Calver, the chief executive of LoveFilm, the European equivalent to Netflix, said: “This is an exciting and important deal for our customers and is the next move in LoveFilm’s strategy of helping as many homes as possible connect to our service.”
The inclusion of BBC services is a first for Microsoft, as the BBC has not provided programming on the Xbox, unlike the Sony PS3 or Nintendo Wii, while access required a paid subscription.
Programming from public service broadcasters and transactional video on demand services will now be available to all Xbox Live members. Others will require gold membership, including some pay-television services such as AT&T U-verse which have previously been freely available to subscribers of those platforms.
“By our estimates, we think that Xbox in the UK has one of the biggest connected footprints and so it’s a great way to reach our audiences,” wrote Cyrus Saihan, a member of the business development team in the BBC Future Media division.
The services will launch by Christmas. A major update of the Xbox 360 interface is expected in mid November, ten years after the original launch of the Xbox.
Microsoft Xbox live has around 35 million members worldwide. Between them they spend over 2 billion hours a month on the service, with a three-fold growth in video usage over the last year.