Microsoft will unlock the digital-distribution capabilities of its next-generation console, Xbox 360, to Hollywood studios beginning November 22.
Xbox 360 gamers in the U.S. will be able to purchase TV shows and download them to
their gaming hard drive as well as rent and watch movies on their consoles.
The first wave of content will include dozens of high-definition and
standard-definition offerings from such partners as Warner Bros. ("Batman Forever,"
"V for Vendetta," "The Nine"), Paramount Pictures ("Nacho Libre," "Jackass: The
Movie"), MTV Networks ("South Park," "SpongeBob SquarePants"), CBS ("CSI: Crime
Scene Investigation," "Survivor") and Turner Broadcasting ("Aqua Teen Hunger
Force," "Robot Chicken").
Xbox 360 represents the first video game console to secure programming from major
content providers as well the opening of a new front in digital-media distribution
alongside the likes of Apple's iTunes and Verizon's VCast.
Microsoft director of platform strategy Scott Henson said there will be thousands
of hours of television and movie content available on the console's virtual
storefront, Xbox Live Marketplace, by year's end.
Microsoft isn't divulging pricing yet on TV shows or movies, but Henson said it
will be competitive with other digital offerings, with HD content slightly more
expensive than standard definition.
TV episodes will be updated on a regular basis and available for purchase as early
as the day after they air.
"TV shows will follow a purchase-to-own model," Henson said. "Consumers can
download a show as many times as he or she wants and from anywhere in the U.S.,
including on other Xbox 360 consoles."
Movies will follow the rental-download model. Once a movie is purchased and
downloaded to the Xbox 360's 20GB hard drive, it remains there until played. Once
played, the consumer has 24 hours to watch it.
In addition to TV shows and movies, there will be sports content, including NASCAR
races from TBS and more than 80 Ultimate Fighting Championship matchups.
The new Marketplace programming will only play on Xbox 360 and not be transferable
to a PC or other device -- at least for now.
Microsoft has 4 million Xbox Live members worldwide that have downloaded more than
70 million pieces of gaming and such short form entertainment content as music
videos and movie trailers during the 11 months Marketplace has been available.
The addition of full movies and TV episodes will enable Hollywood studios to target
gamers first with theatrical releases and then with direct-to-game console rentals.
Microsoft has sold 6 million Xbox 360 units globally to date and expects to reach a
worldwide installed base of 10 million units by year's end.
Henson said the U.S. market will be the first to receive film and TV content but
that additional international markets will come online in the future.
"No matter what you do in entertainment -- movies, music or games -- you have to
make sure the content is relevant to the region," Henson said. "We're going to
start with the U.S., learn from the U.S. and then grow and continue to extend that.
(We'll be) in 25 countries with Xbox Live by the end of this year, so there's a
great opportunity to extend this service."
Sony, which ships its PlayStation 3 on November 17 with its own
digital-distribution network, PlayStation Network, also will look to movies, TV
content and music down the line but has not yet announced specific deals. Games
will be the first focal point, as they have been for Microsoft during the past year
with its Xbox Arcade service.
Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 are viewed as Trojan horses that will enter homes around
the world as gaming machines but will unlock additional capabilities through
digital distribution and next-generation technology. PS3 ships with Blu-ray Disc
technology, and consumers can buy a $200 add-on HD-DVD drive to play
next-generation DVDs on Xbox 360.