Microsoft took the wraps off plans for original programming on Monday because, honestly, isn’t that what everyone’s doing these days?
Actually, it’s more than just Fear of Missing Out that’s motivating Redmond to join the likes of Amazon, Netflix, and now Yahoo in producing original programming. Microsoft brought in CBS entertainment group president Nancy Tellem and former HBO executive Jada Miranda last year in a push to produce original and interactive programming for Xbox; Tellem was part of last May’s Xbox One unveiling, where she provided a few broad details about the company’s plans, but few specifics. (The biggest news at that May 2013 event: Steven Spielberg would be involved with a Halo-based series for Xbox Live and Microsoft would team up with the NFL to provide more interactivity for football fans.)
Monday’s news, first reported by Bloomberg provided more details. The new Xbox television studio will launch in June with six original television series from experienced producers like Seth Green’s Stoopid Buddy Stoodios and the JASH comedy collective created by Sarah Silverman, Michael Cera, Tim and Eric, and Reggie Watts. The first two shows to launch will be Every Street United, a reality show about the world of street soccer, and Humans, a remake of the Swedish show Real Humans, in which robots are the servants of humans.
This is actually not Microsoft’s first foray into original programming on the Xbox. In 2008, the Xbox Independent Video Channel featured horror comedy shorts from directors like James Wan (Saw) and James Gunn (Slither, Guardians of the Galaxy), as well as a few seasons of Felicia Day’s webseries The Guild. But this is more than just a program here or there—Microsoft has formed an entire studio for creating Xbox-specific content, rather than just commissioning work.
Microsoft is going public with its Xbox studio plans at the same time that seemingly every company wants to produce its own original content. The latest to join the fray is Yahoo, which is reportedly planning a series of half-hour comedies aimed at competing with established players Netflix (Orange is the New Black, House of Cards), Amazon (Alpha House, Transparent), and Hulu (The Awesomes). Clearly, somebody has been talking about how the future is going to be built from bricks made out of original streaming video content.
And in order to make its bricks stand out from everyone else’s, Microsoft intends to take advantage of the Xbox as a platform, allowing viewers to unlock extra scenes and play games tied to scenes. The free-to-play model is fairly popular in the world of online games, where anyone can play the basic version of a game, but has to pay in order to unlock playable characters or other extras. It remains to be seen if users will be willing to pay money to see the offscreen adventures of their favorite tertiary characters.