The lights are on
Microsoft and Sony both have big plans to integrate a wide
range of on-demand, live, and streaming entertainment into their new consoles.
The problem is that these types of services won't be a big selling point for
consumers in the next console generation.
Since Microsoft's May 21 Xbox One reveal event, which
showcased the Xbox One enhanced TV and media abilities, it's clear that the
definition of "game console" is changing. Xbox One allows you to Skype with a
friend, watch a Netflix movie, keep tabs on a live soccer match, and play a
game - all at the same time. The company is so committed to this instant
switching between media apps that it specifically designed the Xbox One's OS to
handle multiple apps at once, just like your laptop. It's even created a new
studio division devoted to creating new entertainment and TV style programming,
as well as hybrids like Remedy's Quantum Break.
While Sony has been enjoying the fallout from some of
Microsoft's recent PR blunders and is dutifully portraying itself as the
console maker that "still cares about games," it's also going all in on
entertainment. Let's not forget that Sony, much more than Microsoft, is a
worldwide entertainment company with substantial divisions invested in music,
movies, television, and consumer electronics. You can bet that Sony will have
every entertainment app that it can get its hands on, and confirmed it is adding
more content with new partnerships with companies like Flixter and Redbox.
Sony is also venturing into content creation for its
console. Though it was announced without much fanfare, Sony did say during its
E3 press conference that it was going to create new entertainment content
specifically for PlayStation Network through its Sony Pictures and Sony Music
divisions. It's also going to keep expanding the presence and scope of its own
Video Unlimited service.
In many ways, this is good news. If we can stop posturing
about Microsoft for minute, let's all admit that Netflix Instant has been one
of the greatest entertainment inventions of the past decade and I - like many
of you - was introduced to it through my Xbox 360. I love it, so does my
wife and my daughter. Having more options for entertainment on the next-gen
consoles is great. However, I don't believe it's going to be, for most
consumers, a factor in the decision to buy an Xbox One or PlayStation 3.
Let's look at the last few generations of hardware. From the
very beginning, Sony recognized the potential of combining a game machine and
other forms of media. The original PlayStation played CDs, a feature that I
used a lot in the days before iTunes. The PlayStation 2 added DVD support, a
format that was then red hot. The PS2 was actually a fairly affordable
DVD player at the time, and came with the added benefit of being a game machine
as well. For millions, it was an easy decision - the same goes for Blu-ray
and PlayStation 3.
Microsoft benefitted from recognizing the power of streaming
media (and its generally superior Xbox Live network structure), becoming the
box that, for many of us, brought Netflix Instant into our living rooms. Once
Nintendo got on board with the service, the Wii became a fairly low-cost option
for many who wanted streaming movies on their TV. I know people who bought a
Wii specifically for Rock Band and Netflix.
That won't be the case this time around. As my colleague
Matt Bertz said to me the other day, "I'm pretty sure my toaster runs Netflix
Instant." A friend of mine spoke to a developer at Netflix, and he said that
the company has ported Instant to 300 platforms. That's platforms - not
devices. The number of devices that run Netflix Instant runs into the thousands.
Most TVs and Blu-ray players come equipped with "smart" functionality that
allows them to access wi-fi and run apps like Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Vudu natively. Roku and Google's new Chromecast offer low-cost ways to get all the
video content that you access through your game console to your television for
a fraction of the price.
Microsoft is pushing toward further integration of
television and live cable TV through the Xbox One's ability to interact with
your cable box. However, one of the main reasons I canceled my cable was the
fact that I spent so much time watching streaming TV through Netflix and
playing games on my console. I know I'm not alone.
I suspect that Microsoft and Sony know this, and that's why
both companies are pushing to create unique content. In Microsoft's case, it's
also attempting new game/television hybrids like Remedy's upcoming Quantum
Break. But here's the thing: Content creation is hard. The investment is huge,
and the possibility of failure is high. Both companies have already learned
this in game development. Netflix, which has done a pretty decent job so far,
has experienced its ups (House of Cards,
Orange Is the New Black, Arrested Development) and downs (Lillyhammer, Hemlock Grove).
At least Sony can rely on the talent it has in its other
divisions; this is new territory for Microsoft. Frankly, I don't see either
company building up a roster of "must-see" shows that inspire audience loyalty
(and spending) like HBO or Showtime.
So, while I'm sure many will gladly use Xbox One and
PlayStation 4 to access their favorite entertainment content, the systems will
be just one of many devices in their lives that serve the same function. Being
able to switch between live TV and Netflix is a cool feature, but not one that
inspires me to spend hundreds of dollars. This time around, the fate of these
next-generation consoles will be determined by one thing: the quality of the