Microsoft reveals programs for Xbox original TV programming

Xbox Live will soon be getting comedies from the Robot Chicken creators, dramas from the UK, and more original Halo content.

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Although we've gotten hints about what Microsoft has in store for their slate of original programming, the company unveiled more complete details today on the full scope of what they have in store. Not limited to just Halo shows and this weekend's E.T. Atari game documentary, Microsoft has a full slate of interactive programs including dramas, comedies, animated series, and live events.

Nancy Tellem, president of Xbox Entertainment Studios who joined Microsoft in 2012, and Jordan Levin, the studio's executive vice president, talked about the studios plans at a recent press event. Tellem said, "We started the studio a year and half ago focused on premium television experiences. What differentiates us is not only setting the bar high as far as what we hope to accomplish with the content that we're producing, but hopefully producing content that people actually want to interact with and developing features to support that."

But interactive elements are what can potentially set Xbox programming apart. Levin said, "This is a unique experience because the technology piece of this is not simply a back-end piece, it's not about how video gets into the home, it's not about how video gets discovered or curated, although that's a piece of it. It's really about how technology works hand-in-hand in the development process to create an experience that extends beyond just a passive, traditional one and starts to offer some great interactivity."

"It's really about how technology works hand-in-hand in the development process to create an experience that extends beyond just a passive, traditional one and starts to offer some great interactivity." -- Jordan Levin

Details are still in-development for how to incorporate the technology, but Tellem explained: "As we're going through the development process, we always involve our interactive team to see what we can create that's organic to the piece and that we hope will resonate. It starts with premium content and good content that's entertaining and engaging. To add interactive features such as adding that social community and being able to communicate in real-time with others who are actually watching. We're working right now on time-shifted comments. Because it's a video-on-demand platform, comments that come in about the show, when you watch it'll be as if it's happening while you watch and you can participate in them as well.

"We're in the early stages. This is not a situation of building tons of features and assuming that the audience will necessarily engage or know how to engage. As you'll see, the key is making sure that whatever we're developing is intuitive and creates a frictionless interactivity with what you're watching."

Here's a list from Microsoft of some of the projects we'll be seeing soon:

Halo TV Series - We already knew that Micorosft was partnering with iconic director Steven Spielberg for this one. Spielberg will work as executive producer, and he'll be working with develoer 343 Industries and Amblin Television. We don't know much about it, but Micorosoft's Phil Spencer has said before that the show won't just be "filler."

Untitled Halo digital feature - Separate from the Spielberg's TV series, this "digital feature" from Ridley Scott and Battlestar Galactica director Serigo Mimica-Gezzan is set to debut sometime later this year.

Every Street United - A soccer reality TV series "focused on the global search for soccer's most gifted and undiscovered street stars scouted across eight countries." The show will feature soccer stars Thierry Henry and Edgar Davids, and the search will come to a head in July with a "4v4 street game finale in the shadow of the World Cup in Rio de Janeiro."

Bonnaroo music festival - You'll be able to watch the 13th annual through Xbox Live. The festival run from Friday, June 13 to Sunday, June 15, and will include "interactive features" to let viewers interact with other watchers and also switch between different stages.

Signal to Noise/Atari: Game Over - Signal to noise is the working title for a documentary series from Academy Award winning producer Simon Chinn (Searching for Sugar Man and Man on Wire) that will "expose little-known stories of how modern technology has radically altered the way we interact with our world." The first part deals with this weekend's desert dig for millions of buried E.T. Atari video game cartridges (spoilers: They found some, but we're not currently sure exactly how many there are).

Humans - An eight-episode drama from the UK Channel 4 about an parallel present reality where almost everyone has a human-like robotic servant in their home called a Synth. And if science fiction has taught us anything, it's that creating robots that look like humans always goes really, really well for everyone involved.

We also learned about some in-development projects that are currently unconfirmed.

Fearless - An "unscripted series" from former Australian Navy bomb clearance diver Paul de Gelder who travels around the world to seek out people who "risk their lives to make the world a better place."

Gun Machine - A "hard-boild detective thriller" based on the novel buy Warren Ellis. The story will follow a "detective tracking a serial killer who is tied to a mysterious collection of guns used in infamous New York murders."

Untitled JASH comedy - A half-hour variety show from the comedy collective JASH, which was founded by Sarah Silverman, Michael Cera, Tim and Eric, and Reggie Watts. It's being pitched as a show where "the biggest names in comedy" give the stage to "the people that make them laugh."

Extraordinary Believers - A stop-motion show from the creators of Robot Chicken. Seth Green and Matt Senreich are involved as executive producers.

Winterworld - A live-action series based on the graphic novel Winterworld. In a world after a second Ice Age that's frozen the planet completely, the last vestiges of humanity have "formed tribes that war, enslave, and trade with one another in an effort to survive the infinite winter."

For now, programming will usually be exclusive to the Xbox Live program, though whether content will only be exclusive to Xbox Live subscribers, and how long, is still in discussion. Some projects may expand out to other platforms, and some may potentially be released as free to all Xbox owners, even without a Live subscription.

Sony announced that they're also currently working on original entertainment programming for the PlayStation, starting with a show called Powers. But Tellem is bullish that the Microsoft platform stands above the competition. "We have over 85 million consoles sold globablly and we have 48 million subscribers. And we have all the assets from Microsoft at our disposal: MSN, Skype, and Bing. ... From my vantage point, we're bigger than Direct TV, we're bigger than a lot of cable companies and cable channels, and yet we have an amazing targeted audience of people who are really fans. The idea that we have this console in everyone's living room or bed room and it's connected is an incredible opportunity to distribute and to share our content in a really global manner."

In the future, some of the properties that Microsoft would like to expand out with this kind of additional, original programming include Age of Empires, State of Decay, Forza, Fable, and Gears of War.

What do you think about the recent push toward original programming on your console? Let us know in the comments below.

Justin Haywald on Google+

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