Microsoft's Promise: TV Anytime You Want It
For broadband service providers, the Microsoft keynote, featuring its CEO, Steve Ballmer, was a mixed bag. For all the hints of better things to come in the IPTV universe, there is the constant concern that consumers are edging ever closer to bypassing traditional pay TV services completely.
Ballmer, as you might expect, tried to be optimistic in a tough economy. Shortly after noting that Microsoft spent $8 billion in research and development, Ballmer said: "I believe our digital lives will only get richer."
But during the Wednesday night keynote, Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft's entertainment and devices group, had the two most relevant announcements for broadband service providers.
First, Bach said the company has enhanced its IPTV platform, Mediaroom, which now reaches 2.5 million consumer subscribers via service provider efforts such as AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T)'s U-verse.
Bach says a new feature, called Mediaroom Anytime, will allow TV viewers to go back in time and watch programs that have already aired, even if those programs weren't scheduled to be recorded on the consumer's DVR. (See Microsoft Offers Anytime TV.)
Depending on how service providers deploy it, the Mediaroom Anytime feature could allow consumers to restart a currently airing program, or simply watch something that aired hours ago as if the program were being viewed live.
Bach says Singapore Telecommunications Ltd. (SingTel) (OTC: SGTJY) will be the first carrier to use the new IPTV enhancement. It's no surprise that the initial deployment is overseas, given how touchy the U.S. content makers have been with the rise of the RS-DVR and their programming rights. (See Inside Cablevision's 'RS-DVR' .)
Bach's on-demand symphony
Bach also brought news that could worry broadband providers, who aren't getting a cut of all the entertainment dollars being shuttled back and forth across their networks.
He revealed that, since the launch of the Xbox 360, an online community numbering more than 17 million has spent more than $1 billion on Xbox LIVE, Microsoft's entertainment on-demand service.
That could be a disquieting figure for service providers, which are in a price fight to the death with cable operators and desperate to prove they offer value to consumers, as Microsoft's game system and online service give consumers much of what they look for in a subscription-based pay TV service.
Microsoft and Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX) launched Netflix on Xbox LIVE in November, giving consumers the ability to use their game system as a gateway to instantly watch thousands of movies and TV episodes streamed from Netflix. At this show, Microsoft announced that Windows Mobile customers could now update and view their Netflix movie queues, giving them mobile control over their content while away from home.
Even with the launch of Windows 7 beta -- the almost-ready version of Microsoft's latest PC operating system -- Microsoft is taking video content over-the-top. On the show floor this week, Microsoft is talking up a feature in the new OS where an electronic program guide tells a viewer what Internet TV content is available whenever they connect to a broadband network.
— Phil Harvey, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading