In hunt for content, Xbox could open up its walled garden


Earlier this week, Microsoft teased the E3 audience with the promise of live TV (s MSFT) “coming soon” to the device as part of a user interface update that is expected to be launched later this year. In a phone interview earlier this week, Xbox Live senior marketing director Craig Davison gave us more details about how the company is building its content ecosystem.

Davison said that the Xbox team is in the initial stages of expanding the amount of content available on its Xbox Live service and is especially working on bringing live TV to the console. To do so, Microsoft has released a software development kit (SDK) that partners can use to build applications for the service.

“We would like to see the process as streamlined as possible . . . We release our SDK on a partner-to-partner basis,” Davison said. While Microsoft is focused primarily on building content partnerships with major distributors, like cable and satellite providers, Davison said the company could someday open up its SDK to other third-party developers to create apps for the platform.

“Once we get our SDK strategy really nailed for public usage, you’ll see more of that,” Davison said.

That day might come at some point, but it’s still a long way away. In part, that’s because Microsoft wants to ensure the quality of the content and the differentiated experience that users get on the Xbox Live service. While content partners can use their own branding, Xbox Live features — like user avatars — are pervasive throughout. And with voice and gesture controls available through Xbox Kinect, content partners have another layer of complexity that they need to build for in releasing their apps.

Another issue that Xbox faces — particularly as it hooks its Bing search into the Xbox service for easier discovery of content — is ensuring that all the content has a metadata structure that is consistent enough to surface the content that viewers want to watch.

For instance, it will be interesting to see how Xbox Live and Bing search surfaces YouTube (s GOOG) content when it comes on board. Davison said that the majority of YouTube content would be available, and that it would be searchable along with other content sources, but it was still too early to tell how search would be implemented.

“Metadata will be a challenge across the apps,” Davison said. In YouTube’s case, in addition to not having as rigid of a metadata structure as some of the professional content distributors, it has the added complexity of having different regional content databases for different countries.

Some consumer electronics companies — like Samsung and Roku — have released open SDKs that let anyone and everyone develop applications for their connected devices. But more doesn’t always mean better: While Samsung has more than 500 apps in its ecosystem and Roku has more than 250, discovery of apps can be a problem.

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