Microsoft Xbox Live subscribers will soon be able to stream Downton Abbey or Beavis and Butt-Head via new apps that begin rolling out this week through the spring. Different apps will be available depending on what country you live in, but gamers in the United States will gain access to both MTV and PBS -- kind of opposite sides of the programming spectrum -- to watch the Yorkshire aristocrat period drama or the animated series about delinquent morons. A total of 40 new apps are being deployed around the world.
Other U.S. offerings include the CW Network (Gossip Girl and Vampire Diaries), Vimeo, movie ratings site Flixster, and PopcornFlix (an ad-supported version of Netflix).
It's all part of Microsoft's effort to enhance the Xbox Live experience as a substantial advantage for the aging platform over its main rivals, Nintendo's brand new Wii U and Sony's PlayStation, which is due for an upgrade. The fourth-generation PlayStation will likely appear in June, while the next Xbox is believed coming in the second half of the year.
"Microsoft has been relatively proactive in the content arena for its Xbox Live platform," said ABI Research digital home analyst Michael Inouye. "With regards to more classic [over-the-top] services and content, both Sony and Microsoft have been equally active, with Nintendo starting to catch up with the Wii U; although Nintendo is still behind the curve, as it were."
"Over the top" services are those obtained directly from the Internet via broadband without the participation of the Internet provider.
Inouye noted that smart set-top boxes, such as those made by Roku, also offer extensive OTT services, but Microsoft has excelled at partnerships with pay TV operators.
Last year, the software giant inked a limited-time deal with Verizon to bundle a year of Xbox Live Gold membership with the FiOS triple-play package, with an app for Xbox that includes 26 FiOS channels.
Inouye said Nintendo is in the process of following suit with its TVii feature, which allows users to locate content on Hulu Plus, Netflix or Amazon Instant Video.
"Within the confines of the game console market I would put Microsoft at the forefront, but recall that most services require an active subscription to Xbox Live Gold, a requirement not shared by Sony or Nintendo," Inouye told us.
Seeking a Captive Audience
Ultimately, the top three platforms will want to create a media hub for a range of services to create captive audiences and increase the product's value and appeal.
The next generation Xbox will likely include full integration with Microsoft's next Windows 8 operating system.
"The UI of the Xbox 360 already shares some of the similar interface elements like tiles, but we might see more UI sharing across platforms," Inouye added. "Microsoft, however, will likely support a range of platforms as they have started to do with SmartGlass -- in other words the ecosystem won't be as closed as Apple."
New apps for Xboxers abroad include Globosat Muu (Brazil), Gulli Replay (France), HBO Nordics (Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden) and IndieFlix (Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, United Kingdom, United States).