Report: Xbox Originals operation "off to a rough start"

Yesterday Microsoft orchestrated a big media push about "Xbox Originals," the company's attempt at bringing original TV-style programming to the Xbox platform.

A lot of the coverage was quite optimistic. For instance The Verge's headline was "Xbox Originals to challenge Netflix in June." What happens in June? The Bonaroo Music Festival will be live streamed via Xbox on June 13th. Reed Harris must be nervous. June also is when Every Street United premieres; that one is a show about street soccer players.

There're a lot of questions around this content. For one thing, where will we be watching it? Will it be available only on the Xbox 360 and Xbox One, or will it be available to Windows Phone and Windows tablets and PCs as well? Will we have to pay for it or will it be ad-supported? And if so, how many ads will we be asked to sit through? Will it be available only to Xbox Live Gold members?

I guess it's OK that we viewers don't have these answers yet, but according to a fairly critical piece at Re/Code (Microsoft Xbox Struggles in Big Hollywood Foray), Microsoft doesn't seem to know yet either. The piece starts out by reminding us that Steven Spielberg was at E3 2013 to announce his Halo project, but here we are almost a year later and Microsoft still has nothing to show us, nor any indication of when we can expect to learn more.

From there the piece skewers the Bonaroo simulcast, pointing out that tentpole features like multiple camera angles and backstage access was offered by RealNetworks in 2001 for U2's Elevation Tour. Ouch! But most troubling?

Most frustrating for prospective business partners is the lack of a settled business model to finance Microsoft’s original content initiative. It is unclear whether the programming will be available for purchase, or included as part of the Xbox Live subscription.“We’ll be experimenting with a lot of different ways we monetize the content,” Tellem said. “That’s one of the challenges. The fun is figuring out what the business model and strategy will be. We’re doing it on a case by case basis, depending on the show.”

So it seems Microsoft doesn't yet know if this content will be ad-supported or fall under some other business model. All in all Re/Code's article is a fairly scathing piece that has me really wondering if Microsoft can get everyone involved with the Xbox Originals project rowing in the same direction. Hopefully they can.

But in the meantime, Microsoft wants to re-assure us the Xbox One is still a 'gaming first!' platform. Over at Polygon (Microsoft vows its Xbox TV push won't cut into 'gaming first' approach) Microsoft's entertainment and digital media president Nancy Tellem clarifies:

"I think the interesting thing is the service we're building, which includes games and whatever ... it should be on everything, it should be a service that lives, and it will be. So I think, depending on the concept of what you're doing, you'll be able to do more, and that's just technology right now. Certain types of interactivity that we're building will work really well on the console, but if you want to watch what we're offering on your Surface, it may be a few of those and not all of them. And so, you know, but the important thing is that we're on all these platforms. That's gonna be the most important thing."

Got that? At least we can glean from that mish-mosh of corporate-speak that Xbox Originals, at least a few of them, will be viewable on a Surface tablet and "all these platforms" (whatever that means).

Xbox Entertainment Studios executive vice president Jordan Levin is more straightforward:

It's also probably worth saying that none of the activity we're pursuing is coming at the expense any of the investment that's been made in the platform overall or gaming overall. There isn't shifting of resources away from gaming to this. I mean, the nice thing about playing in a device like this, again, that's nonlinear is there's no finite space restrictions. We're simply a new service that is meant to increase the value proposition for the audience, and if they want to opt in, great, and if they don't, then we'll react and respond. But we're not, there's nothing that's getting displaced in the process of what we're trying to build."

So bottom line, whether Xbox Originals sink or swim, our games shouldn't be impacted. And considering the apparent chaos over in the Originals department, we should all be glad of that fact.

Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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