Microsoft's long-rumored plans to bring cable television content to its Xbox video game console will become reality over the holidays.
The software giant announced this morning that nearly 40 television content providers--including Comcast, Verizon, and HBO in the United States--will roll out programming over Xbox Live. The company also has deals lined up with providers in the U.K., Spain, Canada, Mexico, Germany, and Italy.
"Today's announcement is a major step toward realizing our vision to bring you all the entertainment you want, shared with the people you care about, made easy," Don Mattrick, president of the Interactive Entertainment Business at Microsoft, said in a statement.
Microsoft first discussed the possibility of bringing cable programming to the Xbox at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles in June. At the time, the company said it was working on deals to allow customers to use the console to watch movies and television shows, in addition to playing games.
That's always been the promise of Xbox, since Microsoft first moved into the video game console business a decade ago. Gaming was always at the heart of the console. But the company's vision for the Xbox was to be a strategic beachhead for its software in the living room. With video programming available through the Xbox, Microsoft gives customers one more reason for turning on the Xbox for all of their living room entertainment, not just gaming.
The new programming announced today won't be free. Customers need also to be subscribers to HBO, for example, to be able to view its HBO GO programming.
"Our ongoing goal is to deliver HBO's acclaimed programming to our subscribers wherever and whenever they want it, and this relationship with Microsoft is another huge step in accomplishing just that," said Bernadette Aulestia, senior vice president of Domestic Network Distribution & Marketing at HBO.
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The deals with programmers augment existing relationships Microsoft already has with partners such as ESPN and Netflix. New partners in the United States include Bravo, Syfy, UFC, TMZ, and the "Today" show, among others.
Internationally, the company is partnering with BBC in the United Kingdom, where it already has a partnership with BskyB. In Canada, programming from Rogers On Demand as well as Telus will be available via Xbox Live. Televisa will partner with Microsoft in Mexico. And Telefonica as well as GolTV will show programs on Xbox Live in Spain, in addition to the partnership Microsoft already has in that country with Canal+.
Microsoft is also expanding the functionality of its Kinect motion-sensing and voice-recognizing controller. While primarily a controller that lets gamers use gestures and body movement to play, new voice features, which tap Microsoft Bing search technology, will let users navigate the trove of content with speech. The idea is to do away with remote controls altogether.
When the new services roll out, customers will be able to say, for example, ""Xbox, Bing, The Office," to locate all the content available to them from that program.
Updated with more details and analysis at 10:10 a.m. and 10:55 a.m. PT