With both Apple and Google now anxiously pawing at the door to consumer living rooms with products like Apple TV and Google TV, it should come as little surprise that Microsoft is apparently lumbering down from Redmond to poke its face in the doorway, too. Early reports suggest Microsoft is developing a paid television service that would use the Xbox 360 to pipe content to TVs. It may be just a sliver of a rumor at the moment, but the concept has legs. Here’s why a Microsoft-developed pay TV service could potentially bowl over Google TV.
There were 18.6 million Xbox 360 consoles in the United States the last time Microsoft released numbers this time this year, and we’re willing to bet that number has seen a healthy increase since then (Microsoft claims 44.6 million worldwide, as of September 2010). Among the entire American population, that’s better than one in every 10 households, and if you’re in college, chances are you can find an Xbox 360 among your friends before you can find a toaster.
Microsoft doesn’t need to sell you a new box because you probably already own one.
If you don’t, it’s pretty affordable to get onboard. A Google TV box (the Logitech Revue being the only one, at the moment) will cost you $300. An Xbox 360 Slim will cost you $200, and if you really feel like skimping, you can pick up a refurbished Arcade model from Best Buy for $130. That’s almost Apple TV territory.
Besides the fact that millions of Xbox 360 owners wouldn’t have to spend a dime for hardware to tap Microsoft’s TV service, slipstreaming onto an existing device has other benefits, too. The interface is already familiar, the box is already connected, and Microsoft can use updates to push the TV service in front of owners who might not otherwise seek it out.
Microsoft has already hammered out a template for video delivery on the Xbox 360, too. The latest fall update brought on-demand ESPN to the box, and Netflix streaming has been standard for over a year now. Together, they give Microsoft a technological testbed for streaming that should ensure the final product feels polished right out of the box, as opposed to the hokey beta feel of Google TV.
Rather than partnering with major networks and premium content providers like HBO to offer content that other boxes couldn’t access, Google TV merely provided an interface for consumers to get at what was already there. Smart move in theory, bad move in execution. Within weeks of launch, ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox all cut off their free online streams to Google, Hulu had it blocked from the start, and what content remains is often fragmented and less than intuitive to access.
Microsoft, meanwhile, is apparently in talks to actually work with providers to deliver content, rather than merely acting as a conduit to deliver it. Besides the fact that working directly with providers will prevent content from being abruptly shut off, partnerships should also open up access to exclusive content, fresher content, more complete content, higher quality (1080p?) content, and hopefully, a more unified interface along the lines of what we’ve seen with iTunes on the Apple TV.