Microsoft extends reach into TV programming via Xbox

The Seattle TimesApril 10, 2014 

It wasn’t so long ago that broadcast and cable networks were just about the only companies vying to produce original programming.

Now more and more tech companies want in on the action, from Netflix and Amazon.com to Microsoft, Sony and, reportedly, Yahoo.

Microsoft’s efforts will accelerate in June with the debut of the first of its new spate of original programs greenlighted by Nancy Tellem, who came to Microsoft from CBS about two years ago to spearhead the effort to create more original content for the Xbox platform.

In June, Microsoft will provide live event coverage from the Bonnaroo music festival in Tennessee.

Also to debut sometime this year is a tech-focused documentary series produced by Simon Chinn and Jonathan Chinn of multiplatform media company Lightbox. The first installment tackles the urban legend that in 1983 video-game company Atari had buried millions of its not-well-received, unsold “E.T. the Extra Terrestrial” game cartridges in Alamogordo, N.M. Those are two of the six full series that Microsoft’s Xbox Entertainment Studios, under Tellem, has committed to. The other four are:

 • A “Halo” TV series with Steven Spielberg as executive producer.

 • A “Halo” digital feature executive-produced by Ridley Scott and David Zucker.

 • “Every Street United,” an unscripted series about street soccer.

 • “Humans,” a drama series set in a parallel world where families own robot servants, produced by Kudos, a U.K. company, and presented in partnership with U.K. broadcaster Channel 4.

“Humans” is to debut in 2015; the others do not have set debut dates yet.

Microsoft has three other series in the early stages of development:

 • A sketch-comedy show with comedy collective JASH, founded by Sarah Silverman and Michael Cera, among others.

 • A hybrid stop-motion animation project by Stoopid Buddy Stoodios, creators of the TV show “Robot Chicken.”

 • “Fearless,” an unscripted series starring Paul de Gelder, an Australian Navy bomb-clearance diver and shark-attack survivor.

It’s all part of Microsoft’s push to create more original content as consumers increasingly use cloud services and mobile devices, as well as set-top boxes, to watch TV.

Creating original programming is not new for Microsoft, which in years past has produced the digital series “Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn” and “Halo: The Animated Series.”

But the plans accelerated in 2012 with the hiring of Tellem, former president of CBS Network Television Entertainment Group. She became Microsoft’s president of entertainment and digital media, overseeing a new production studio — Xbox Entertainment Studios — in Los Angeles.

Tellem told Variety last year that developing the original programs was taking longer than planned, but that she hoped to launch the first of the programs in the first or second quarter of 2014.

Microsoft is seeking to differentiate its shows by focusing on the interactive potential of the Xbox platform and the company’s mobile devices.

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