Microsoft Announces Proprietary Xbox Live Video Content

Microsoft Announces Proprietary Video Content for Xbox Live

Simon Chinn, producer. Is the brick wall a subtle metaphor?

In a post on the Xbox.com site, from Xbox Entertainment Studios, Microsoft has announced an exclusive new video series:

Today, Xbox Entertainment Studios announced an original documentary series that will debut exclusively on Xbox in 2014. Xbox will produce the series with two-time Academy Award-winning producer Simon Chinn (Searching for Sugar Man and Man on Wire) and Emmy-winning producer Jonathan Chinn (FX’s 30 Days and PBS’s American High) through their new multi-platform media company, Lightbox.

This seems like a great perk for Xbox owners, but in fact it’s the exact opposite: a great reason to avoid the Xbox 360 and Xbox One. Here’s why Microsoft needs to rethink its approach.

Services vs Platforms

As I’ve posted previously, the problem with exclusive video content on Xbox Live is that it’s tied to a specific hardware platform. That makes it fundamentally different from, say HBO’s Game of Thrones, or Netflix’ House of Cards, or Amazon’s Alpha House. Those series are exclusive to specific content services, but not to any one brand of player.

But Microsoft makes its hardware exclusivity quite clear in its post:

The series will air exclusively on Xbox One and Xbox 360 in 2014 and will be available globally in all markets where Xbox Live is supported.

[My emphasis.] That’s ‘game over’ for anyone who merely owns some other name-brand TV, set-top box, game console or Blu-ray player.

Console gamers don’t think it odd that they have to own two nearly-identical hardware devices to play all the latest game software. In fact, they actually rejoice when ‘their’ platform has the best exclusives, never noticing that this is fundamentally against their own best interests as consumers. This is an aberration. These same gamers would find it exceedingly odd – maybe even outrageous – if they brought how a new Blu-ray movie, and found that it wouldn’t play on their Toshiba Blu-ray player, or their Sharp TV. So why should they support a platform that’s moving toward exactly that model of content distribution?

The fact that Microsoft’s announced content sounds quite good only makes things worse.

The first film in the groundbreaking series investigates the events surrounding the great video game burial of 1983. The Atari Corporation, faced with overwhelmingly negative response to the video game “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” buried millions of unsold game cartridges in the middle of the night in the small town of Alamogordo, New Mexico.

Filmmaker and avid gamer Zak Penn (X-Men 2, Avengers, Incident at Loch Ness) will direct.

Unfortunately, it seems that the top-quality brand-name TV equipment on which I’ve watched Mr. Penn’s other works will not be adequate for viewing this new series. I’m not sure why Mr. Penn doesn’t have a problem with that. I know that as a content creator, it would bug the hell out of me. (What browser are you using to read this page? What brand of PC, tablet or smartphone? Aren’t you glad it doesn’t matter?)

It’s not stated anywhere that there’s a time-limit on the exclusivity of this new documentary series. But it’s the principle that’s disturbing. TV has always been based on open hardware standards. Today, the Internet offers the opportunity to open it up still further. And yet, a major Internet company like Microsoft sees nothing wrong with closing it down, right to the hardware level.

I hope consumers will look beyond their immediate viewing preferences, and try to envision a world in which an increasing number of must-see programs are distributed on a hardware-exclusive basis. And I continue to hope that Microsoft will suddenly remember that its software empire was founded on openness – especially support for multiple hardware brands.

(Also see my comment here.)

About fung0

Long-time tech journalist. Contributor to numerous periodicals, online sites and TV productions in the US and Canada. Author of several books on computing topics. Graduate mechanical engineer (Queen's U).

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