Microsoft's Durkin: Entertainment 'Driving Platform Momentum' On Xbox 360

Dennis Durkin, COO of Microsoft's IEB, tells Gamasutra, "Not only has gaming usage gone up [on Xbox 360], but non-gaming has as well," as the company evolves the console into a do-it-all entertainment box.
[Dennis Durkin, COO of Microsoft's IEB, tells Gamasutra editor-at-large Chris Morris, "Not only has gaming usage gone up [on Xbox 360], but non-gaming has as well," as the company evolves the console into a do-it-all entertainment box.] When Elijah Wood first showed the world the Xbox 360 on MTV in 2005, the system was laser-focused on games. But as the industry has evolved since then, so has the 360. These days, while games are still at the core of the system, other entertainment options have elbowed their way into the spotlight -- and, with the U.S. addition of live television to the offerings planned by the end of this year, games will have even more competition for people's attentions. The addition -- and added focus -- on features like movies, music and television has divided the Xbox nation. Some core gamers felt left out of the company's E3 press conference, as Microsoft focused on Kinect and non-gaming functions. Others were happy to see their game system continue its evolution into a full-fledged entertainment device. Dennis Durkin, chief operating officer and chief financial officer for Microsoft's Interactive Entertainment Business, though, says that the expansion of the Xbox 360's abilities has been a key factor in the system's continued growth -- and its string of hardware sales victories for the better part of the past year. "For me it's about driving platform momentum," he tells Gamasutra. "[When] we launched the New Xbox experience in 2008, we added in new entertainment categories. Not only has gaming usage gone up, but non-gaming has as well. As we add new entertainment categories, we appeal to broader entertainment segments. If we can provide content for all of them, we can be relevant to all of them. … We'd like to see more live TV and local TV. We're doing everything we can to strike those partnerships." Forty percent of all Xbox activity is spent on activities other than games. The average console is used 30 hours per week for streamed video and audio programming -- and the number is growing fast. It could get a boost with the addition of Live TV, something Durkin says he expects to launch this holiday -- though perhaps not on a global scale. While Microsoft announced those Live TV plans at E3, it didn't give a lot of details about the service. That's, in part, because it's still figuring quite a few of them out. For example, no provider partners have yet been announced. Will the company team with networks directly or with cable/satellite providers, as it has done with AT&T's U-verse? Given the carriage fees networks earn from cable operators, it would be shocking to see them strike direct deals with an over-the-top competitor like Microsoft. But anything's possible in the rapidly evolving entertainment world. Durkin, as you might guess, declined to address specifics. "We're reaching out across the board with everyone," he says. "Content partners have seen what we've done with Canal Plus and they want to see how they can leverage our infrastructure." More specifically, the amount of data a content provider can get from Xbox users is significantly higher than what cable companies offer. Rather than aggregated user data, Microsoft is able to supply companies with end-user data, which can be much more valuable. One thing that likely won't be happening, though, is any use of the Xbox 360's hard drive as a DVR device. Sony toyed with this idea for the PS3 with PlayTV, but the device never made it to the U.S. And Durkin says he believes the era of DVRs is quickly coming to an end, anyway. "I think consumers are going to care less about where the bits are stored vs being able to get it when they want," he says. "There will, for sure, be video on demand as part of this service." Of course, the integration of Bing search will factor into this as well. The Bing announcement didn't turn a lot of heads at E3 -- and that's understandable. But it's worth a second look, as, at its heart, what Microsoft has planned is similar to what Google has promoted as one of the chief features of Google TV -- allowing owners to find the programming (as well as games) they want when they want it. And despite conjecture that users would be able to search for things beyond entertainment out of the gate, that's not in the plans. While Durkin says other voice-based searches are certainly possible down the road, the focus for now is on the entertainment ecosystem.

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