Could Microsoft Be Your Next Content Distribution Partner?

/ Jun 20, 2013


When Microsoft unveiled the new Xbox One, the company made it very clear that the device is designed to be more than just a game console. It does play games — and beautifully, with “commercial film–grade” visual fidelity — but Microsoft is also talking up the Xbox One’s robust content creation, personalization, and discovery features.

Those features were what Yusuf Mehdi, CMO of Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment division, focused on during his session at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity this week. And if they get fleshed-out in the way that Microsoft is promising, then content creators planning for a future “beyond YouTube” might have a new distribution platform (and partner) to think about.

Personalized Video Search & Discovery

The Xbox One will bring new meaning to the phrase “personalized content,” starting with technology that can recognize specific users by the sound of their voice, the contours of their face, and even analyze their muscle mass and heart rate. Upon launch, the device greets each user with his or her own dashboard, keeping tabs on the most recent content they’ve consumed — be it games and music or movies and TV shows.

Voice-powered search means users can tell the Xbox One to search for “Game of Thrones” or “Monday Night Football,” and because the connected device pulls in live TV and VOD through Xbox LIVE — Microsoft’s content and networked gaming service — they’ll be able to watch whichever shows and movies they want almost instantly.

The VOD option is particularly relevant for content creators, as with the right distribution deal, the Xbox One becomes a pipeline into their audiences’ living rooms. Xbox LIVE users have been able to watch YouTube videos on the Xbox 360 (the Xbox One’s predecessor) since 2011, and Microsoft brought lots more short-form web content to Xbox LIVE late last year, through deals with, AOL On Network, and Vimeo.

In terms of discovery, the Xbox One will use a mix of past viewing behavior and relevant trends to suggest new games, TV shows and movies on a per-user basis. What’s key here is that each user gets a different set of recommendations when they turn on the device and it recognizes who they are. That means from its onset, the Xbox One will be a better source of content recommendations than YouTube is now. (And we know how some in the industry feel about the quality of YouTube’s discovery mechanisms.)

Ingenious Content Creation

Still, the most intriguing part of Mehdi’s presentation came when he shared stats on how the technology inside the Xbox One might start to shape the content creation process. As noted, the device will be able to gauge physical aspects like skeletal structure, muscle tone and heart rate, which Mehdi said would be “great for fitness games.” But what about health and fitness gurus currently building their brands on YouTube?

Take a yoga instructor creating a series of vinyasa flow videos, for example. What if he or she knew that the Xbox One could recognize whether the viewer was not in correct alignment and then stop the video until they corrected their form? How might that influence the way they script, shoot, and edit the series?

Microsoft is also building cross-device functionality into the Xbox One, an element that might help shape the future of cross-platform storytelling. Imagine a user watching “Game of Thrones” on the Xbox One, for example, that then gets prompted on their Windows phone to view an interactive map of Westeros to follow along with where a battle is taking place. Fantasy and action content creators may find new ways to tell stories using the Xbox One as the main hub. Meanwhile, Microsoft recently staffed up a studio in LA focused on creating engaging, interactive content, so we can expect some interesting shorts and series to come from in-house as well.

At the very least, the content creation, search, and discovery features embedded in the Xbox One will make watching original video content a more fluid and enjoyable process for users. And making it easier to find great content is always a good thing. We’ll need to wait and see how well the device sells and whether Microsoft can deliver on all these promises, of course. But if things do come to fruition, then the Xbox One (and Microsoft) may become a fascinating new partner in the digital content ecosystem.

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