No dongle, no problem: Why Microsoft is betting on smart TVs for Xbox Everywhere
Hello, and welcome to Protocol Entertainment, your guide to the business of the gaming and media industries. This Thursday, we’re taking a closer look at Microsoft’s Xbox Everywhere strategy, as well as Netflix’s “Stranger Things.” Also: How to make Wi-Fi visible.
What Microsoft’s game streaming plans tell us about its media ambitions
Microsoft has reportedly teamed up with Samsung to bring an Xbox game streaming app to Samsung smart TVs. The company has also been working on a dedicated streaming dongle, but it told Windows Central this week that it decided to “pivot away” from the current version of that device and “refocus ... on a new approach.”
On the surface, both the dongle and the smart TV app aren’t big news. Microsoft hinted at both a year ago when it laid out its vision for cloud gaming beyond the Xbox. However, the company’s decision to prioritize smart TV apps over dedicated streaming hardware isn’t just notable from a cloud gaming perspective — it also tells us a lot about Microsoft’s media ambitions beyond gaming.
Microsoft has reportedly been working on its own dongle for years. The device, which has been code-named Keystone and likened to a Fire TV stick or Roku puck, would allow the company to more tightly control the game streaming experience for its Xbox Game Pass platform without the pitfalls of third-party hardware.
- A dedicated streaming dongle would also allow Microsoft to run non-gaming apps, including media apps from third-party providers.
- The Xbox already runs apps for Netflix, Disney+, HBO Max, YouTube, Hulu and others. It’s not too far of a stretch to assume many of the same apps would also find their way to a dedicated Xbox streaming dongle.
- Running third-party media apps would allow Microsoft to create some incremental revenue by taking a cut from those publishers’ ad and subscription revenues.
- The company could further tap into non-gaming revenue streams by embracing ad-supported video channels, much like Roku and Fire TV do.
There’s clearly a pull towards TV-based game streaming. Samsung launched game streaming on its TVs at CES, and already has partnerships with Google Stadia, Nvidia GeForce Now and Utomik in place.
- In a way, Microsoft can’t afford not to be on these TVs, and it better act fast.
- Launching a dedicated app on Samsung’s TVs, and potentially TV sets from other manufacturers as well, also means the company has to be a lot more tightly focused on gaming.
- The app would come without access to third-party video services. After all, Samsung TVs already have all the apps people want.
- Microsoft would also have to give Samsung a cut of any advertising or transactional video revenue it may be able to generate with its own services, making it a lot less likely that the company would venture into those areas.
- In other words: Expect a Xbox app on Samsung TVs to carry Xbox games, and not much else.
Microsoft has been at this juncture before. When the company launched the original Xbox One in 2013, it positioned the device as a media center for your living room, capable of combining TV, streaming and gaming in one box.
- This push into non-gaming media also included massive investments in Hollywood. The company launched its own studio, only to shutter it soon after.
- The device’s content tie-ins didn’t fare much better. The Xbox One had HDMI pass-through, which was supposed to allow people to combine cable TV with app overlays.
- That approach was error-prone, and the core Xbox audience was much more interested in streaming than cable.
- Ultimately, Microsoft decided to focus on gaming, de-emphasizing media collaborations and even shutting down its own music subscription service.
Prioritizing smart TV apps over a dedicated dongle may be a necessity for Microsoft as the company aims to bring Xbox everywhere. But the move also puts the company on a path that’s all about gaming, and a lot less about everything else on TV.
— Janko Roettgers
The 'Stranger Things' effect
“Stranger Things” season 4 is here, and it’s already breaking records: Netflix members spent a collective 287 million hours streaming the show over its debut weekend, which makes this the biggest debut of an English-language show on the service to date.
- “Stranger Things” dethroned “Bridgerton,” which clocked 193 million viewing hours over one weekend when the second season debuted in March, according to Variety.
- The breakout success of “Stranger Things” season 4 couldn’t come soon enough. Netflix lost 200,000 subscribers in Q1, and at the time forecast that it would lose another two million this quarter.
- How much difference will it make? That’s up to debate. Some think it’s a sign that Netflix can still produce blockbusters, others argue that there have been far too few of these hits to justify Netflix’s comparably high subscription fees.
- Among the critics: Former Amazon Video head Roy Price. “Stranger Things premiered six years ago,” Price tweeted this week.
- “Squid Game is great too, but … [the] US series development group hasn’t delivered a big new regular series in some time. Which is a problem,” Price wrote.
“Stranger Things” is a gift that keeps on giving. Netflix split the fourth season into two installments, with additional episodes premiering in July. The company has also already booked a fifth and final season, to premiere some time before 2025. Between now and then, maybe Netflix can even come up with a new blockbuster.
— Janko Roettgers
Disclosure: Protocol is owned by Axel Springer, whose chairman and chief executive officer Mathias Döpfner is on the board of Netflix.
A MESSAGE FROM TRUSTED FUTURE
At the same time that the pandemic demonstrated all that is possible in an interconnected world, we saw in new and increasingly stark ways how certain communities continue to be marginalized and harmed by a persistent digital divide and how effectively that divide exacerbates our society’s other inequities.
In other news
Sheryl Sandberg is leaving Meta. Sandberg will leave the company after 14 years this fall; Javier Olivan will become Meta’s new COO.
Regional sports network NESN launches a subscription service. The Boston Red Sox broadcaster will charge subscribers a whopping $30 a month. It’s the first time a regional sports network has gone direct-to-consumer.
Blizzard’s newest game skips Belgium and the Netherlands. Diablo Immortal, the first mobile entry in the long-running dungeon crawler series, is skipping the two countries due to rules around loot boxes.
Apple has filed for a RealityOS trademark. The filing was made through a shell company, and has led to speculation that the company could announce its AR/VR headset soon.
Activision Blizzard wrongful death suit dropped. The family of Kerri Moynihan have dropped their lawsuit against the game publisher, Axios reported. The Moynihans had alleged that workplace sexual harassment led to the death of their daughter by suicide.
The Weather Channel has launched a streaming service. For $2.99 a month, the service will offer viewers access to the network’s cable feed, as well as additional AR experiences.
Respawn co-founder speaks up. Vince Zampella tweeted support for trans rights on Tuesday. Zampella runs major game franchises like Apex Legends for Electronic Arts, which has come under fire for telling employees that it won’t be publicly supporting controversial political topics.
More than half of Netflix’s catalog is now originals. Originals and exclusives surpassed the 50% mark for the first time in Netflix’s history in March.
An AR Wi-Fi finder
We’ve all seen our fair share of pointless AR demos, so it’s always refreshing if a company comes up with something useful. Verizon, for instance, has been looking to use AR to help people find the best placement for their router. Point your phone where your router currently is, and an AR animation of a Wi-Fi symbol will show you exactly how strong of a signal the device will provide from that current position. Move your phone around your house, and it will find spots where the signal may be better. Amazing idea, especially for people looking to optimize their mesh router setups. Sadly, it only exists as a patent application. But maybe Verizon will actually build it if we all tweet about it?
— Janko Roettgers
A MESSAGE FROM TRUSTED FUTURE
There is so much more we need to do to make sure our future is more equitable and inclusive and maximizes America’s potential. It is not enough just to ensure everyone is connected. We also need to extend the full scope of digital opportunity to the people, the communities, and the institutions.
Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.