Microsoft Gets More Kinect-ed; Interactive TV Challenges

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November 28, 2011 – 12:05 am

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Microsoft Gets More Kinect-ed

When it comes to Microsoft’s attempts to compete online, whether through its MSN portal, its online advertising sales offerings or its Bing search engine, the software giant is often regarded as second class in comparison to the Google, Apple and even Yahoo. But with the rise of over-the-top TV, the Redmond company has a chance to level the playing field, particularly against Google and Apple, which have made little headway into the connected TV space.

Last week’s estimated $70 million acquisition of video search VideoSurf could help Microsoft make additional inroads into the connected TV space. While it looks like nothing more than YouTube’s own search, or Blinkx, five-year-old VideoSurf offers a back-end technology that "sees" frames inside videos to make discovering content fast, easy and accurate. Over time, Microsoft will fold this technology into its entertainment platform to buttress the Xbox 360 ecosystem and evolve search and discovery of entertainment content on Xbox Live. Read the release.

The deal comes as Microsoft prepares to finally bring cable TV programming to its Xbox video game console. The company has linked up close to 40 television content providers – including Comcast, Verizon, and HBO in the United States –will roll out programming over Xbox Live.

With the addition of VideoSurf, Microsoft believes its Xbox 360, coupled with its Kinect computer-vision-based input, will one up the competition by squarely putting social gaming alongside entertainment.

There’s an important distinction here: whereas Google and Apple are trying to attract more content from dubious programmers, Microsoft’s popular gaming offerings gives it something different, especially considering how consumers are spending more time with their screens playing games and seeking new video content instead of just passively watching the same old programs. Still, it’s not as if Apple and Google don’t realize this. It’s merely that when it comes to gaming, Microsoft it one area where it still has advantages. It’ll be interesting to see whether or not Microsoft squanders this opportunity or runs with it. So far, the ball is in Microsoft’s court and the others will have to catch up quickly.

Apple And Google’s Interactive TV Challenges

With Microsoft acting aggressively and somewhat originally on the interactive TV front, where does that leave Apple and Google? Considering how golden two latter companies’ touches are usually regarded, it’s been interesting to watch them struggle and squirm for a change. But they’re hardly standing still.

Still, their plans for reversing their rather respectively lackluster showings in the TV space are the subject of constant speculation, which owes to the importance of whatever Google and Apple undertake. In Apple’s case, the consensus is that the Apple TV device, due to poor sales, is largely irrelevant; meanwhile, Google TV has been tagged with equally poor sales and technological problems. In any event, a major reboot is needed for both.

Over at AllThingsD, John Paczkowski smartly conjectures “that may be more to Apple’s developing relationship with Sharp than simple supply-chain diversification and OLED panels for future iPhones and iPads.” The word is that the Japanese electronics maker is working on a prototype of the long-rumored Apple television, dubbed iTV.

Yes, all the big electronics companies are said to be working on a much-improved interactive television. But it’s hard to beat Apple’s advantages in creating a truly all-encompassing device. For example, Apple has begun rolling out it iCloud media service, which gathers consumers’ music, video and other data in one place. So far, it would appear to be a hit. As we saw above, Microsoft is making headway on bridging video and gaming for the interactive TV screen, but its timing and execution on more ambitious projects have tended to falter the last few years.

The real challenger to Apple’s plans is still Google, even though its Google TV offering has been troubled from the start. But guess what? The electronics makers have not counted the search giant out. And that could help Apple, at least in terms of the content owners, who are a bit more favorably disposed to the Cupertino company.

"People are generally quite nervous that Google will eat their lunch," said Richard Musch, Senior Director Business Development Smart TV at Philips, according to Wired UK’s Olivia Solon, who reported from EBG's Mobile and Social Media event in Paris last week. "So Apple is easier to deal with. But at the end of the day they are [likely] taking 30 percent of revenues, which is still a concern," he added.

The point is that Google, because of its web dominance, has the resources, the patience and the vision to pursue any path it wants and eventually move the market around it. That doesn’t mean Google will naturally succeed in everything it tries. But it has the wherewithal to force others to change their plans in reaction to Google’s steps. And that has created a kind of balance of power politics that will surely unintentionally benefit its competitors. But Google is so good at understanding wider consumer behavior, and is so nimble, it has to be taken seriously, even despite the view that Google TV is going nowhere fast. Expect some major acquisitions by Google within the next six months that will be hailed as “game-changers” in the connected TV space.

But Wait. There's More!

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November 28, 2011 – 12:05 am

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