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Microsoft Eyes Original Fare: Q&A With Don Reilley

13 May, 2009 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Microsoft recently announced it would create original programming earmarked for the Zune portable media player and Xbox Live platform. Don Reilley, national manager for advertising, entertainment and devices with Microsoft, said the move is not a signal the Seattle-based technology behemoth intends to follow in The Walt Disney Co.’s footsteps anytime soon.

What it does suggest is that Microsoft wants in on ad-supported streaming with higher margin original programming for both its platforms and third parties. Home Media Magazine asked Reilley to elaborate.

HMM: What is the purpose for original programming for Microsoft platforms compared to licensing via third parties?

Reilley: From an advertising perspective, original programming is a way for us to provide our users with content that they currently can’t get anywhere else while also inviting advertisers to be a part of a unique branding experience. The fact that we have the power to provide a combination of both allows us to really add value for our users, while creating opportunities for advertisers to participate on these platforms.  It’s really about bringing the right content to our consumers.

HMM: Is it targeted toward a specific demographic, such as gamers, males ages 18-25?

Reilley: The content distributed via Xbox Live will skew more toward the male gaming audience, but Microsoft’s platforms overall, including Zune and MSN, reach a much broader audience of consumers.  We make sure we have a variety of content that will interest our customers across Microsoft’s platforms.

HMM: What are the titles and will they be ad-supported or pay-per-view? Who are the cast members?

Reilley: At the recent showcase in New York, we presented four key programs that we have in the works and are really excited about, including comedy “Cinemash,” which invites actors to play their favorite roles in hit movies, like Will Arnett playing Carrie for the movie Carrie.  We also have Cheech & Chong doing Tron, Zooey Deschanel, Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Kill Shot), rapper Common (Terminator: Salvation), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (McLovin’ in Superbad), Milo Ventimiglia (“Heroes”), MTV’s comedy troupe Human Giant and more. The series will launch in June.

“Foley Guys” stars Rainn Wilson from “The Office” and is about two guys who move to Hollywood to make it as foley artists [who create many of the natural, everyday sound effects in a film].

We’re working with the Jim Henson Co. on a live puppet series about a crime-fighting hamster. Dave Foley and Amy Davidson have signed on for the “Untitled Workplace Comedy,” which will be developed around the sponsor who signs on for the series.

We’re aiming to have them ad-supported with the potential for distribution via MSN, Zune or Xbox Live platforms, but don’t have that confirmed at this time.

HMM: Will the original content itself be licensed to third-party platforms, including cable TV or satellite?

Reilley: We’re currently planning to distribute through Microsoft’s platforms and we don’t have distribution plans beyond that confirmed at this time. However, we are continuing to develop these models and discuss the possibilities for providing this great content to our customers.

HMM: Would any of it be distributed as rental/sellthrough packaged media such as DVD or Blu-ray through such retailers as Blockbuster, Netflix, Movie Gallery and kiosks?

Reilley: These are also distribution possibilities that we can’t confirm at this time for our original Web series.

HMM: With Hulu.com and TV.com generating increased buzz about repurposed streamed content, how do Zune and Xbox Live compete or differentiate from that?

Reilley: From an advertising perspective, Zune and Xbox Live aren’t solely for streaming this original content, but it’s a great addition to what they represent.  Zune is a music and entertainment device while Xbox Live is a network for gaming and entertainment, so there’s more inventory for providing ad-funded experiences beyond original web series that enhances the experience for our consumers. We also have the ability to provide content across multiple screens including TV, PC and mobile, and can optimize the format for each tuner – for example, shows on Xbox are produced in 1080p high-definition.

HMM: Is the key to wide consumer appeal of electronic distribution still watching content on the TV in the living room? Or is portability of content on media devices the future?

Reilley: We’re looking to provide content for our consumers to view when and where they want it, so we aim to make it available across multiple screens, including TV, PC and mobile devices. 

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