Microsoft is going down the Netflix and Amazon route by greenlighting a raft of original programming for its Xbox One console.
The shows will include original documentaries and miniseries’ with an eclectic cast that includes Sarah Silverman, aspiring World Cup players and robots.
The new shows will start to rollout beginning in June.
The move marks Microsoft’s entrance in to an already crowded video-on-demand market, alongside industry leaders such as Netflix (which released its first original show in 2012 and has now greenlit more than two dozen), Amazon (whose streaming device Fire TV is currently shipping for $99) and newcomers such as rival computer entertainment giant Sony (who is working on an original series for the Playstation in the form of its adaptation of the graphic novel Powers).
Microsoft’s Xbox entertainment division is being headed by former CBS executive Nancy Tellem, whose prior hits include Friends and ER.
According to Tellem, the focus will be on exploiting the interactive elements that a powerful piece of hardware such as the Xbox One offers.
Her first offerings are a street football reality show called “Every Street United” timed for the World Cup, as well as robot thriller “Humans” based on a Swedish series.
The studio will also produce a comedy sketch show with Silverman and Michael Cera’s JASH comedy collective and a stop-motion show with Stoopid Buddy Stoodios, which makes the Emmy-winning “Robot Chicken.”
The Xbox entertainment team is developing a common set of interactive capabilities for the shows like social networking tools, a reward system and opportunities to purchase things like soundtracks. The group says that it is committed to designing at least one interactive feature tailored to each show.
The studio is also working on a way to save a social commentary stream along with live events. That lets viewers who watch a big game or show finale a few hours late to see the key tweets or Facebook posts that captured the action. Other ideas include an experimental way to scan the viewer’s face and place them in a show’s crowd scene.
By bringing together TV executives and software engineers under its large entertainment umbrella – and by only green lighting interactive shows that will encourage users to engage across consoles, phones and tablets – it seems that Microsoft’s aim is to anchor a consumer home entertainment network that will tie the company’s devices together.
But, crucially, it will be its ability to lure more users to the Xbox One – which many analysts claim is still lagging behind the PS4 in terms of sales – that will be the decisive factor.