Halo Series Coming to Xbox Originals to Take on House of Cards

Microsoft won’t stand by and watch as Xbox One and Xbox 360 users pour more and more time into watching the video content of others. Today the company announced Xbox Originals, a slate of Microsoft-produced programming that will only be available to users on the Xbox One, Xbox 360 and more.

Microsoft formally announced Xbox Originals early this morning, noting that users would be able to stream the entire slate of television shows from Microsoft’s Xbox consoles and what it’s referring to as “other Microsoft devices” beginning sometime this June. Currently, the slate of television shows include a live-action Halo series, a reality television show that follows a soccer team, a documentary series whose first episode chronicles Atari’s decision to bury E.T. The Video Game cartridges in the desert and more.

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In total, Xbox Originals includes twelve shows that are clearly targeted at television viewers who are probably younger than 30. Microsoft also says that these shows will have “interactive” elements

If all that sounds familiar, it’s because Microsoft announced that Halo live action series is being produced by its new Xbox Entertainment Studios team during last year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo event in Los Angles. The company hired former CBS executive Nancy Tellum to lead its video content creation efforts some time ago. Tellum has decades of experience in the television space.

What’s interesting here isn’t just that Microsoft has plans to make its own television shows. That’s not really shocking. Sony, Microsoft’s biggest competitor in the console space, has experimented with its own video content for years. The interesting thing here is how Microsoft plans for Xbox Originals program to fit into its vision for the Xbox One and other devices.

Microsoft is positioning Xbox Entertainment Studios as a counterpart of Xbox Studios, the part of the company that makes, produces and publishes video games internally and with partners.

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“Microsoft has a long and rich legacy in the content business. Games have been part of our DNA for at least the last 15 years, and creating original TV content is a logical next step in our evolution,” said Xbox Entertainment Studios Vice President Jordan Levin.

If that’s an accurate description of the company’s plans than it makes less sense to compare Xbox Originals with say, Netflix and more with the exclusive video games that are only available on the Xbox like Halo. This distinction is key because it gets to the heart of how people will get this content.

If Microsoft releases Xbox Originals content like it does games from Xbox Studios than this content is unlikely to ever be available on any other platform besides those made by Microsoft. That’s because Microsoft uses Xbox Studios-produced games as a carrot to entice users into buying their hardware. If that’s the case here, Xbox Originals content could cost users extra on-top of their Xbox Live subscription, just like exclusive games do today.

However, if Microsoft is positioning for a bigger play in the entertainment space, Xbox Entertainment Studios will need to create a product that makes sense in today’s market. It’s possible that Xbox Originals content could be tied to an Xbox Live Gold account or some other subscription service. This method of distribution would make the most sense.

It makes sense that Microsoft would move into the original content streaming space for no other reason than the makeup of Xbox Live itself. At Dive Into Media Microsoft announced that the majority of Xbox Live activity comes not from users playing video games online, but from streaming apps like Hulu and Netflix. If that’s true than Microsoft does need to create a Microsoft-made entertainment ecosystem for these users as well. Like with exclusive games, exclusive video content could be used to lure in users and keep them on Microsoft’s tablets, smartphones and software. Just think of it as attracting and locking in users in the same way Apple users the iTunes Store’s video and eBooks content. Creating something like this is key as Microsoft looks to attract and hang on to Xbox and Windows users over the coming decade.

The problem for Microsoft is going to be coming up with a way of getting these shows in users hands that makes sense. Microsoft devices aren’t cheap. The Xbox One costs users $499 and the Xbox 360 still sells for $199. Most Windows Phones and tablets running Windows 8 cost upwards of $200. Convincing users to spend $200 just to watch a Halo TV series isn’t going to get users excited. That Microsoft has plans to lock this content to its own devices and services is very curious.

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Netflix and Hulu have shown that the best approach is to make apps for every platform. Not making this content available on the iPhone or devices running Android means Microsoft is taking a huge step backward. After all, it already makes the Xbox SmartGlass and Xbox Music apps available to every smartphone user except for those with BlackBerry devices.

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