Microsoft’s new slate of Xbox Live apps heralds the coming of Xbox TV

Microsoft’s ambition to take over living room entertainment with the Xbox began with video games, but television is the company’s ultimate goal. As its Xbox Live Gold premium subscription service has evolved over the past decade, it’s changed from a multiplayer gaming service to a smorgasbord of different entertainment options including television channels like ESPN Xbox Live. On Tuesday morning, Microsoft announced the latest expansion into television through Xbox Live with 43 entertainment apps planned to release around the world between now and early 2013.

Starting Tuesday in the US, Microsoft now has video channels for Maxim magazine and CNET, with new channels for Game Trailers, Flixster, IndieFlix, The CW, Vimeo, and even PBS on the way over the next few months. There are also new entertainment apps including cloud storage service SkyDrive and streaming music business Napster.

That’s in addition to a large number of television content aimed at Western European nations like the Germany/France exclusive ARTE and HBO Nordics for Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Sweden.

Microsoft is constantly updating Xbox Live with apps like these, often in small numbers, lending to the curatorial nature of the Xbox Live Marketplace. Unlike Apple’s iTunes which is glutted with apps from independent companies, Xbox Live still feels contained even though it’s got thousands of apps and games at this point.

The business philosophy is to make Xbox Live seems on paper as content rich as a cable television subscription, and that model is precisely what Microsoft is trying to emulate. Come 2013, Microsoft is expected to fragment its Xbox business, offering a high-end gaming console called Xbox 720 or possibly Durango as well as a streaming media set top box called Xbox TV. The Xbox TV will still play video games but it will primarily be for Microsoft’s entertainment services.

While these television apps demonstrate how Microsoft is slowly growing its partnerships with providers like The CW, they aren’t representative of the work Microsoft is doing behind the scenes. The company hired former CBS Television executive Nancy Tellem to head up its television entertainment production back in September and we’ve yet to see the fruits of her labor. When will Microsoft transform Xbox Live into a service with true parity to cable services like Time Warner and Comcast? Soon considering how it’s ramping up these app releases.

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