> Microsoft: Go Make Media Social...Please!

Microsoft: Go Make Media Social...Please!

Posted on Tuesday, June 8, 2010 | No Comments

Just about every move that one of the big three in software (in no particular order; Google, Apple and Microsoft), makes at the moment is instantly copied by the other. Google and Apple are quite clearly fighting and vying over the mobile space right now with their respective iPhone and Android platforms and this has spilled over into new areas; mobile devices, tablets and more recently even television services.

Apple have long had a device known as “Apple TV”, formerly “iTV” I believe, but it has always remained what they call a “hobby project” for them (presumably because either they can’t work out how to get channels to agree to share content with them or because they haven’t quite worked out how to make money out of it). More recently Google have announced that they are making moves into this area – presumably to beat Apple to the punch and steal market share first.

The interesting part for me, is that Google TV seems to be a dual approach – an online TV service and also a device driven service in the form of both a set top box and a built in TV tuner into custom made televisions. Google’s partnership with device maker Logitech is the most intriguing part of this new direction.

Logitech make some outstanding devices; the Squeezebox Duet which I own for playback of music from my centralised storage is second to none in my opinion and just seems to work flawlessly. But Logitech also manufacture mice, keyboards, webcams and a whole host of peripheral devices – many of which are of top quality and good build. Google’s partnership with them is very smart; especially as it means that Google won’t have to focus on building the hardware, which Apple very much have to do to fit in with their design ethos.

If Google have the content to make the service attractive for people to buy, then there is no reason why ‘Google TV’ couldn’t or shouldn’t take off, especially if Apple isn’t going to jump-in and compete straight away.

What’s important to not forget is that Microsoft, once again, have been dabbling in this area of TV for quite some time now with their inclusion of “Windows Media Centre” in Windows Vista/7. Again, I personally am a happy user of WMC and find that it suits my needs extremely well; and above all Microsoft seem to be developing add-ons for the platform and its tightly integrated into their Xbox/Living Room entertainment strategies. Recently, Microsoft have added in the Sky Player (for those with Sky Anytime subscriptions), and even more recently ‘on-demand’ services have been levered in using Silverlight technologies to stream content from the web (which seems to be paid for with two advertisements per show, that are slotted in before and during the ‘broadcast’ – which seems to work very well).

The downside from Microsoft’s point-of-view is that they haven’t had the wide-spread adoption as they should have had, had they made more of an effort to make users aware of the features right there within their desktop operating system software as a viable alternative to buying Freeview or set top boxes.

Admittedly, most users aren’t likely to want to hook-up their primary PC to their living room PC (especially if it’s a laptop), and the investment in a secondary PC may be a more pricey option than a pre-built, set top box.

For me, there are two ways to look at this;
  • A change in the way WMC is offered to potential users. Microsoft either need to partner or make available a ‘stand-alone’ version of WMC for device manufacturers to integrate directly into Microsoft-enabled set top boxes or even “Microsoft TVs” with built-in software – or – make WMC a far more attractive proposition for users to move to – or – do both strategies (similar to what Google is trying to do).

  • Or add in or change WMC to adopt a new media social sharing strategy, directly across the web.

If you’re anything like me, and from the evidence I’ve seen most people are, you’ll tend to watch a TV show and have your laptop in reach to keep connected with the outside world. I’ve seen many a user on both Twitter and Facebook, post status messages about a particular TV show as they are watching along – it’s the perfect way to share opinion and gain insight into how others think; these social network services are making TV social able.

The next wave (Wave 4), of Microsoft Live Essentials, including Windows Live Messenger, Live Photos, Hotmail and SkyDrive all seem to have tight integration with each other and with online services such as Flickr and Facebook. If that’s the direction Microsoft have taken with these products/services, to me it makes absolute perfect sense to pull all of that data directly into your Media Centre too, allowing users to share their thoughts and feelings on the web. Perhaps not only with those who you are friends with, but also with others who are watching along with the same programme, all from the same screen (i.e. without me having my laptop or mobile phone handy to tweet or post status updates).

Adding these things onto the TV screen is without doubt going to be a challenge, getting the user interface right, to be non-intrusive from the programme you are trying to watch. However with Microsoft’s Aero/glass interfaces within Windows, see through pop-ups may be a possible solution or overlays may be the answer.

Forget trying to stream television across the web (the broadcasters will do this for you – look no further than the BBC iPlayer for proof of this), I believe the real trick the big three should be focused upon is trying to make television social and connected.

We don’t necessarily want to interact with the programmes that we’re watching, but the evidence suggests that we do want to interact with each other. Yes, there’ll be times when you don’t want to be connected or interrupted from your favourite shows or movies, so using “Presence” technologies that already exist, it should be easy enough to “be away” or “busy” or customise who can or cannot bother you during these times.

We should be able to share our opinions and thoughts, and advertise the programmes that we are watching (in the form of making direct recommendations), but we should also be able to direct friends towards the feeds/channels we’re watching so they can find the same content and watch along; perhaps having the option to share our screens with one another too would be good. Imagine being able to settle down to watch a movie with your closest friends, regardless of where in the world they are? (Of course, I’ve no doubt that copyrights will play a part in whether this is possible or not – but technically it should be, provided there is enough bandwidth available to stream).

This is where I see TV going – not towards streaming across the web (that’s already happening), but a move to make TV social would undoubtedly open the way and make these devices (over traditional set top boxes), more popular and worthy of investment.

Microsoft certainly seem to have the cloud based services, Media Centre and connectivity between the big social networking services in place; they just need to polish these things up and connect them all together and they’ll have a really good product to pitch against Google and Apple’s offerings. Will Microsoft compete with the other two in this arena?

Time will tell, but the potential is certainly there to do so – please don’t let me down!

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