If you ever wanted to know what a declaration of corporate war looks like, take a gander at Nintendo’s Thursday coming out party for the Wii U. You have to look closely though. The wanting game line up, the aged technology on par with Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, the too-high pricing—The Wii U package looks pretty rough to the enthusiast video game crowd. Nintendo isn’t looking to compete for the gamer dollar though. It wants the family dollar, a shrinking market with an audience spending more on iPhones and Kindle Fires than Wii Fit. Gaming isn’t Nintendo’s war. The announcement of Nintendo TVii is a first shot, Nintendo’s claim on the real next-gen console battlefield: Entertainment services.
Nintendo TVii is how Nintendo will wage its war against Microsoft, the Xbox brand, and specifically Xbox Live.
Television is a vital market for Nintendo. Netflix released a remarkable statistic late last year: 25 percent of all Netflix streaming subscribers watched on Nintendo Wii. That’s more than double the number of Netflix viewers on Xbox 360. Surprising numbers considering Netflix streaming was available on Microsoft’s box years before it came to Nintendo’s.
Part of the reason Nintendo pulls in so much more viewers is sheer numbers. Microsoft has only sold around 67 million Xbox 360s worldwide whereas Nintendo’s sold more than 100 million Wiis. The other big reason though is that Netflix on Xbox 360 is only available to Xbox Live Gold subscribers, whereas its free on Wii like every other service.
The popularity of Wii as a television set top box is going to help make Wii U attractive to that family audience that’s stopped spending on gaming in the past couple of years. Nintendo TVii is also designed around the sort of simple interface that Nintendo typically blunders spectacularly. Rather than the cramped nightmares of services like Nintendo’s eShop, Nintendo TVii puts its channels and services behind big, colorful, easy to understand icons and it’s all free. The Xbox interface is still hidden behind the 360s cumbersome menus, making it difficult to find programming even for thos Xbox Live Gold customers that can access them. What’s more, Nintendo TVii is free, and Microsoft has already indicated that it doesn’t plan to stop charging for Xbox Live’s premium features any time soon.
Nintendo TVii will actually make second screen viewing experiences—social interactivity while watching a show, getting info about a show or sporting event as you watch it, etc.—a legitimately marketable proposition since the Wii U tablet controller will be included right with the console. Microsoft’s Xbox Smart Glass can’t compete since it relies on consumers to seek it out through other devices. It’s not built with the machine in mind, and unless the Xbox 720 comes with a tablet controller—which it might—ease of access will give Nintendo TVii an advantage.
It’s too early to declare victory for Nintendo TVii. It needs to support a broader range of services first. TiVO, Hulu Plus, Netflix, ABC online, and CBS Sports aren’t enough. Nintendo needs the support of cable and satellite providers like Comcast or Time Warner to really make Nintendo TVii a market leader. Right now though, the service is the company’s most promising chance at success. Way to get your war on, Nintendo.