Microsoft planning a new take on interactive TV?

30 Nov 2010

Microsoft is understood to be planning a new digital television strategy that will see it create subscription-based services possibly using the Xbox 360 as a hub and aimed at beating efforts like Google TV, Netflix and Apple TV.

According to reports, Microsoft is planning to forge alliances with cable and satellite TV operators in various markets, for example in Ireland with either Sky or UPC.

One idea being put forward is enabling users to transform their TVs into interactive web TVs by combining their Xbox 360 with the satellite or cable service.

With the launch of its successful Kinect, Microsoft has already made it possible for users to make use of Messenger features and conduct video conferencing.

Xbox 360 owners can already message via Twitter, surf their Facebook profiles and download video on demand. A deal signed last year between BSkyB and Microsoft means Xbox 360 owners have access to live and on-demand pay-TV content via their consoles.

But it seems that with the onset of web-integrated TVs from players like Samsung and Toshiba and the onset of TV apps, Microsoft will need to integrate further and make it seamless to switch between gaming, advertising and dynamic content.

Google TV killers

In October, the chief strategy officer of UPC’s parent company Liberty Global, Shane O’Neill, predicted the cable industry will embrace Google TV-type services and revealed the cable giant is planning a revolutionary home gateway device called ‘Horizon’ for 2012.

“With this, cable subscribers will be able to access internet content, as well as web TV. They will also access content across the household – you can be watching in the living room any content you have on PCs and other digital devices – we will unveil a state-of-the-art user guide to navigate through this.

“It will be easy to use, it is cool and coming to Ireland in summer of mid-2012. This will be coming via UPC, not Apple.”

Cable and satellite operators will need all the help they can get to allay a growing trend for internet subscribers to cut their cable subscriptions in favour of online services like Netflix, Apple TV and Hulu, which allows them to download content and play it on a PC or HDTV.

The Financial Times reported at the weekend that debate is raging in the US media industry about television viewers “cutting the cord” – abandoning traditional cable TV in favour of new, cheaper online video services. Although the number of people subscribing to TV services offered by satellite or telecoms groups is growing, cable TV subscriptions have suffered their biggest drop in 30 years, according to figures compiled by SNL Kagan, the research firm.

Whatever Microsoft is planning, it will have to obviously appeal to flighty consumers who want content on-demand and appease cable and satellite players’ concerns and enable them to offer interactive, socially connected experiences.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years