Behind The Scenes: Microsoft's Attempt To Woo Conan O'Brien For Xbox Live

In comments made to Gamasutra, we learn how Microsoft tried to woo Conan O'Brien to take his show onto Xbox Live - and why it was ultimately too much of "a leap of faith" for the comedian's team.
[In comments made to Gamasutra editor-at-large Chris Morris, the executive producer of Conan O'Brien's talk show discusses how Microsoft tried to woo the comedian to take his show onto Xbox Live - and why it was ultimately too much of "a leap of faith" for the Conan team.] U.S. talk show host Conan O'Brien has been a familiar face on late-night TV for the past 18 years, and even when he had his nasty falling-out with NBC in early 2010, most people expected he would wind up at another network - which, of course, he did. But before TBS came calling, Microsoft did its best to entice the comedian to bring his show to Xbox Live to help launch an original content channel on the console. The company and the performer have never addressed the reports of the conversation. But last month at CES, Jeff Ross, executive producer of "Conan" finally gave some details during the "Hollywood Creative Masters" Super Session (which, in the interest of being candid, I was moderating for Hollywood trade paper Variety). The talks never went too far, but they did happen. One of the big concerns Coco & Co. had was that the plans for original content were still in the very early stages. The lack of a clear vision and the fact that it likely wouldn't launch in a timely fashion were a stumbling block that was hard to overcome. "The Xbox thing - a lot of the conversations were 'well, it's a show, but it's not a show and there are no breaks, but maybe there are breaks and it's not 60 minutes, it's this' and nobody really knew what it was," he said. "So it was really going to be a leap of faith to jump in with these guys and figure something out which we didn't know. Plus there were 100 people who were out of jobs and that didn't bode well for that." One thing the talks did, though, was underline how important the Internet could be as a marketing tool and a way to maintain awareness, even when there was no show on the air. "It was interesting to sit and look at it and say, 'it would be great to be involved in this,' but at the end of the day, we had some eventual television offers and we basically shied away from the other," said Ross. "But we knew we had to be involved in the technology side. We knew we had to be involved in the Internet no matter what we did." While Team Coco passed on the Microsoft offer, they still seemingly walked away with some respect for what the company was planning. Ross didn't go into details about the big picture, but there have been several other reports. Microsoft has been busy speaking with several media companies about acquiring content for a pay-television subscription service that would stream through the Xbox 360 dashboard. It's possible the service could launch this holiday season, but that's dependent upon the company locking in a sufficient number of partners and development running on schedule. Last November, Reuters reported the company was discussing a number of options, including creating a "virtual cable operator" to be delivered online or using the 360 to authenticate cable subscribers to watch shows - similar to its current deal with AT&T's Uverse. Another option could be creating additional individual content channels for providers, as the company has done with ESPN. "You meet with these guys and they show you all this stuff that they're developing and it's mind blowing," said Ross. "I think it's coming and it's big. It's just that we weren't in a position at that point to figure out what it was." Should Microsoft jump into the content delivery business, it could be a significant shift in the market. Apple TV is something broadcasters are keeping a close eye on. And Hulu's continued growth, while imperfect, has content providers and cable companies increasingly concerned about the cord cutting movement - customers canceling their cable subscriptions and watching online or via streaming technology. "We're all concerned about over the top video delivery because ultimately what sustains this industry is a bundled model - the ability to build a linear channel," said John Landgraf, president and general manager of FX at a 2010 Variety Entertainment and Technology Summit. "I don't believe a purely a la carte business will function. It simply will not function. It will not sustain quality programming."

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