Seth Green, Michael Cera, and Sarah Silverman making Xbox TV shows
Microsoft taps Hollywood comedy talent for new interactive programming to air on Xbox One and Xbox 360.
In its bid to take on companies like Netflix and Amazon with its own Xbox-exclusive TV shows, Microsoft has greenlit new programming from Hollywood comedy stars Seth Green, Michael Cera, and Sarah Silverman. Xbox Entertainment Studios will produce a sketch comedy show made by Silverman and Cera's JASH comedy collective. As for Green's show, it's a stop-motion program made by Stoopid Buddy Stoodios, the team behind Green's Robot Chicken.
"TV, as the highest-reach form of entertainment you can find, is a critical part" of bringing consumers to Microsoft, said Head of Xbox Phil Spencer in an interview with Bloomberg. Spencer said last week that entertainment options for the Xbox One are important, but they "can't come at a cost for what we do for the core gamer."
Other shows from Xbox Entertainment Studios include a World Cup-themed show called Every Street United, as well as the robot thriller Humans. Microsoft also recently got approval to dig up a landfill in New Mexico in search of millions of copies of the failed movie tie-in E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial for a new documentary series. There's also a Halo TV show in the works with Steven Spielberg and a new digital project from Alien director Ridley Scott.
On top of that, Bloomberg reports that Microsoft has ordered a pilot for an unscripted series called Fearless. This show will follow Australian Navy bomb clearance diver Paul de Gelder--who lost limbs in a shark attack--as he "aids people who try to make the world a better place." What's more a documentary series from the minds behind the Oscar-winning Searching for Sugar Man will also come to Xbox. The first shows should debut in June.
Microsoft faces formidable competition in the original programming space. Netflix already has a foothold in the market with well-received shows like House of Cards and Orange Is The New Black. Meanwhile, Amazon's online programming lineup includes shows like Betas and Alpha House. In addition, Sony has greenlit a new drama called Powers for the PlayStation Network.
"This is not an easy business," Xbox Entertainment Studios chief Nancy Tellem said. Tellem is a former CBS TV veteran who helped critically acclaimed shows like C.S.I. and Survivor get off the ground. "There's a huge failure rate. You have to get up to the plate a lot. Hopefully we can have a higher batting average than most, but it's a long process."
Xbox Entertainment Studios' efforts also include live programming. The studio will host a live broadcast of the annual summer musicfest Bonnaroo in July. Backstage interviews with performers will be conducted using Microsoft's Skype service.
Tellem said some of the Xbox Entertainment Studios programming, like Every Street United, will be free on Xbox 360 and Xbox One. However, she explained that Microsoft is still working out the business arrangements for the other shows. She also noted that Microsoft could sign deals with other companies to release the programming on other, non-Xbox platforms.
Overall, Tellem said the original Xbox programming will focus exclusively on the "gamer audience"--that is, typically males 18-34 years old.
"We aren't trying to find something that's going to be accepted by the largest common denominator, which is what a lot of people in the business look for," Tellem told Bloomberg. "We're focused on what we feel our audience on our platform wants."
The Xbox Entertainment Studios programming will be a mix of live action and interactive components as a means to encourage users to "engage" with the show across their consoles, phones, and tablet devices. Microsoft is also experimenting with ways it can boost interactivity and engagement, including a system that would scan your face (presumably via Kinect) and then place you in a show's crowd scene.
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