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Next TV: Xbox Taps Into Large, Expanded User Base

Santa Monica, Calif.-- During the recent rollout of the next-generation of gaming consoles, Microsoft differentiated itself from competitors by broadening its approach, transforming the Xbox from a gaming platform to a more general-entertainment device. 

Speaking with moderator and Multichannel News technology editor Jeff Baumgartner at the Next LA Summit & Expo here on Tuesday, Xbox Entertainment Studios senior vice president of creative Lydia Antonini explained that the company’s increased focus on narrative content was a natural response to consumer activity. 

“We have over 48 million Xbox users that connect live through our platform globally,” said Antonini. “That’s a pretty big number of people plugged in, and we know what they’re doing.” 

By monitoring activity on the Xbox 360, Microsoft found its users to be regularly viewing content through third-party apps such as Netflix and Hulu. Current users aren't just using the system; they're investing hours into games and other forms of content each day.

“One of our recent stats is the average Xbox user is on the platform experiencing gaming and entertainment experiences for over five hours a day,” said Antonini.

With the establishment of Xbox Entertainment Studios a year and a half ago, the company plans to offer its large, engaged audience original television content that aligns with their brand.

One of the first shows spearheaded by Antonini and her team was Halo: Forward Unto Dawn, a live-action series based on the popular video game franchise. The studio is currently in co-production with the UK’s Channel 4 on a sci-fi drama called Humans, which is expected to be available next year. They’re alsodeveloping a pilot with the comedy collective JASH, which will likely be a variety show that featuring up-and-coming comedians. 

While the studio has primarily focused on producing traditional narrative television, they have a Interactive department dedicated to finding unique ways to keep users engaged with content. Antonini explained that the Xbox One “is a console you turn on and by virtue of turning it on you have a controller in your hand and the expectation is that you can engage with it.” Engagement could mean anything from talking about a show on social media to using the Xbox controller or Kinect to actively influence what happens on the screen. 

Antonini also recognizes the potential of broadening its core base. 

“Ten years ago the Xbox was something that an 18-year-old dude had in his dorm room or basement,” said Antonini. “Ten years later that guy is now 28, they’ve taken that Xbox and plugged it into the TV in the living room.”

The presence of the Xbox One in the living room could lead to the studio producing broader content for those outside its current core audience. In terms of how the studio measures success of new originals amongst a particular audience base, Antonia explained that they monitor a combination of usage and engagement, but that the success of each show will be different and measurement is an ongoing learning process. 

“As we roll out over the next three to five years we’ll learn what metrics matter,” said Antonini.  

According to Antonini, the studio’s most difficult challenge has been convincing everyone — from the non-Xbox users in the living room to content creators — how the Xbox can be a different, possibly superior platform for content distribution. 

“So many people are developing content right now across all of Los Angeles. From Playstation to Netflix to Amazon, there’s all these new players. The toughest thing for us is helping people understand what we’re doing on our platform, how it’s different from those places, how we’re like traditional television and how we’re sort of an amalgamation of digital.”