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Microsoft Readying Interactive Original Series

7 Apr, 2014 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Microsoft Corp. is joining the growing bandwagon of tech companies financing or licensing original episodic content for distribution via over-the-top video platforms — with a twist.

The Redmond, Wash.-based software behemoth in June will launch the first of six original series through its nascent Xbox Entertainment Studio (XES) including World Cup soccer-themed reality show “Every Street United,” which enables viewers to interact with the show.

Microsoft is attempting to play catch-up with Netflix, Amazon Studios and Hulu — all of which have created original programming for their respective subscription streaming platforms.

With the critical success and media attention given Netflix’s political drama “House of Cards,” and women’s prison dramedy “Orange Is the New Black,” Microsoft last year lured entertainment veteran Nancy Tellem from CBS Corp. to jumpstart original programing at Xbox — heretofore primarily a video game and third-party content streaming platform.

Timed to coincide with the quadrennial soccer World Cup — taking place this summer in Brazil — “Every Street” allows Xbox One and 360 viewers (targeted at the 18-to-34-year-old demo) to unlock bonus material during the series and engage in mini-matches, among other content.

A live Boonaroo Music & Arts Festival, documentaries, comedies, and previously-announced series based on the Halo video game franchise from Steven Spielberg, are planned as well.

“TV, as the highest-reach form of entertainment you can find, is a critical part” of wooing consumers to Microsoft,” Phil Spencer, head of Xbox, said in a video interview.

Meanwhile, XES and U.K. broadcaster Channel 4 April 7 announced a partnership to co-produce "Humans.” The hour-long, eight-episode series will be produced by U.K. production company Kudos ("The Hour," "Utopia," "Broadchurch"). "Humans" will share a premiere broadcast window on both Xbox in North America and Channel 4 in the U.K. in 2015.

"Humans" is an English-language adaptation of acclaimed Swedish TV series, "Real Humans." "Humans" is set in a parallel present where the latest must-have gadget for any busy family is a 'Synth' — a highly-developed robotic servant eerily similar to its live counterpart. In the hope of transforming the way they live, one strained suburban family purchases a refurbished synth only to discover that sharing life with a machine has far-reaching and chilling consequences.

“’Humans' not only questions personal relationships, we loved how this sci-fi show toys with reality and our connection to technology," Tellem said in a blog post.

Casting for "Humans" begins in May and production commences later this summer.


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