We hardly knew ye: Microsoft shutters Xbox Entertainment Studios

Mere weeks after debuting its first show, the soccer reality competition Every Street United, Microsoft has announced that it is getting out of the original programming business and will shut down the Xbox Entertainment Studios. This move comes as part of a larger corporate restructuring that could shed some 18,000 employees over the next year. Newly appointed CEO Satya Nadella signaled the reorganization in a recent company-wide e-mail that spoke of “fundamental cultural changes” and renewed focus on the company’s “unique core.”

The studio shutdown will not affect the production of Halo: Nightfall, the live action series based on Bungie’s hit shooters being produced by Ridley Scott in collaboration with Showtime, or Signal to Noise, the documentary in development about Atari and the mythical New Mexican E.T. landfill. Nor will it have any impact on the production of Quantum Break, Remedy Entertainment’s Xbox One exclusive game with integrated live action content, or the planned Steven Spielberg-produced Halo TV series. Nancy Tellem, the former CBS executive whom Microsoft hired in 2012 to helm the studio, will remain on board to see through the programming that has already begun production.

“Change is never easy, but I believe the changes announced today help us better align with our long-term goals,” explained Xbox head Phil Spencer in a public statement. “We have an incredible opportunity ahead of us to define what the next generation of gaming looks like for the growing Xbox community. I have a great deal of confidence in this team and know that with clarity of focus on our mission and our customers we can accomplish great things together. We already have.

With the immense success of Netflix’s original programming like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, there has been a flurry of other companies trying to get a piece of the action. First the obvious contenders like Amazon and Hulu followed suit, and more recently Yahoo threw its hat into the ring with the announcement that it will be partnering with Sony to produce a sixth season of the cancelled NBC sitcom Community. Hiring Tellem in 2012 was part of a broader push to make the Xbox into a universal entertainment platform–Microsoft’s E3 presentation that year seemed to focus on nearly everything that the console could do other than playing games. Fan backlash was strong, though, and as a mea culpa the company’s presentation last month was about gaming first and foremost.

In light of that shifted attention and Nadella’s refocusing on the company’s core, XES’s demise is not particularly surprising. Xbox will continue to serve as a portal to a wide range of entertainment media, but it may be for the best that Microsoft sticks to what it does best rather than trying to be everything for everyone. As Parks and Recreations paragon of wisdom, Ron Swanson, once put it: “Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.”


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