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Microsoft plans to dominate the world (of entertainment) with the Kinect

2011 was good to the Xbox. For the last 11 months, the system has been the number one console sold in the world, leading to the best year ever for Microsoft’s console. There are now roughly 66 million Xbox 360s in the world, and that number is climbing at a healthy clip. There are several reasons for the solid sales, but two of the most important are the media options like ESPN and Netflix that turned the console into a multimedia device, and the rise of the Kinect.

Traditionally, the average lifespan of a console has been five years, but that has changed. Microsoft is just beginning to squeeze all the life out of the 360, and the service continues to find new ways to expand the experience. The possibilities are varied and numerous, but one theme is constant—increasing interactivity.

At the Microsoft keynote address yesterday at CES, the idea of 2-way TV was unveiled. The service is still in its infancy and is months away from practical implementation, but the groundwork has been laid. The debut was highlighted by two programs: Sesame Street and National Geographic, but more will follow.

The idea is to make watching television a more active experience. The Sesame Street demo was obviously for kids, but it does show what the service is all about. The demo featured four episodes tailored for the Kinect. In the episode that I tried, the live-action show began with a number and a movement given as the key words of the day. After a brief interlude, Elmo came on screen and asked me to throw coconuts for him to catch. Each throwing motion led to a different animation, as Elmo caught the magic number of coconuts (it was four if you were curious). Numerous other interactive games were available, but the idea was simple: TV you can interact with.

Although it is still in the early stages and won’t debut on the Xbox until later this year, the possibilities are incredible, as long as content providers are willing to provide additional footage. Imagine watching your favorite TV show and after being introduced to a new character, the show then offers you the option to continue watching as normal, or maybe you can instead choose to follow that new character to see their unique story. Perhaps the main character goes home, and you then have the option to explore their home and learn more about them while the story is paused. There could also be a “Choose your own adventure” style story where you are given options on how the story should proceed, and the story will play out from there.

Each idea would require a huge investment from the storytellers, but the potential is there.

There could also be a simpler interaction for live events, like American Idol, where the user could vote, choose to watch older segments, or maybe bring up more info on the contestant.

These are all just potential ideas, but Microsoft is look at the new UFC app, as well as the ESPN app as a working model for TV. Each app has plenty of content, but you can switch in and out of that content and supplement it with things like highlights with the touch of a button—or the wave of a hand via the Kinect.

The idea of interactive TV seems like a dream, but the technology is there, and the first wave will come later this year when Sesame Street, National Geographic, and a handful of as yet unannounced show hit the Xbox.

Passive TV isn’t going anywhere, but there is a huge amount of potential for a new form of television entertainment to emerge as our technology continues to increase. It will take more than just Microsoft to shift our entertainment patterns, but the first steps have already been taken.

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