Written by Nate D’Amico.
Cisco (s CSCO) had its living room coming out this year at CES, while Yahoo (s YHOO), Intel (s INTC) Samsung and the gang are banded together to bring the Internet into the living room via their TV widgets platform. But Microsoft (s MSFT) wasn’t sitting on the sidelines, and I think — for once — that the Redmond giant is ahead of the curve.
Microsoft has spent years and billions of dollars trying to develop a living room strategy. After screwing up its WebTV purchase back in the day and its failed reboot with UltimateTV, it’s hoping that the third time is the charm to stake a claim as the leader in the living room. Its current campaign is launching attacks on two fronts. On one side you have the Xbox, sold direct to consumers. On the other front you have the Microsoft Mediaroom solution that’s sold to service providers as a way to deliver IPTV-based solutions.
After years of losing millions in the gaming space, the Xbox found its golden child in the Halo franchise, along with its growing Xbox Live service. During his keynote address at CES, Steve Ballmer dropped the stat that Microsoft has sold 28 million Xbox units, and more astonishingly, that there are now 17 million users signed up on its Xbox Live service. The rollout of new services, such as Netflix access, should help bump up the number of Xbox Live Gold users. At $50 a year, Microsoft stands to attract substantial revenue from Xbox users.
As for Mediaroom, like most Microsoft products, it had a troubled start. But the company learned
some lessons from working with Verizon (s VZ) and the AT&T (sT) U-Verse trials. When I talked with telco reps at the TelcoTV
Conference, the feedback I heard was that Mediaroom is maturing into a stable and highly scalable solution. The service now boasts more than 2.5 million subscribers through providers such as AT&T, BT (s BT), and SingTel.
At the end of 2008, Microsoft released the Mediaroom Presentation Framework for building interactive applications — and from the demos at CES, the Presentation Framework’s potential is very impressive. It’s quickly raising the bar for cable providers such as Comcast (s CMCSA) and Time Warner (s TWC) who are trying to get through network and set-top-box upgrades to deliver their own interactive programming experience in the living room.
I had a chance to spend some time with Shari Barnett, who heads up the Presentation Framework group, and see some of the applications Microsoft was showing off. Barret is working with service and content providers to deploy a first wave of Interactive TV (ITV) applications for the Mediaroom Platform, and below are some pictures of initial applications from the Professional Golf Association (PGA).
Once the PGA application is launched you see the main application menu in the top left hand corner of the screen:
Here, the player lookup functionality has been selected to view a detailed profile. Notice the ad banner included at the bottom. Microsoft is offering these ad features to provide monetization opportunities for providers.
Because of the bandwidth management capabilities that IPTV provides, features such as Multi-View allow content producers to get pretty creative with their productions. For example, NASCAR could pipe out the normal broadcast views along with additional cockpit views, allowing the user to switch on the fly to the lead driver cockpit view; or CBS could broadcast Multi-View for March Madness, allowing people to switch between games themselves. Here is a shot of the Multi-View feature that allows the user to view different angles and golfers on the course at the same time:
No word yet when U-Verse customers will get the PGA application. The service providers are moving slowly into the interactive space here in the states but Barnett says AT&T customers should be on the lookout for wider deployments as we get later into this year.
Nate D’Amico works with telecommunications providers on implementing SaaS solutions for their business and consumer customers. He has also written for our sister site