Microsoft Launching Video Game Streaming Service

Microsoft Oct. 8 announced details of a new video game streaming platform – dubbed Project xCloud – that enables users to play console games regardless of device. The platform is set to launch public trials sometime next year.

Microsoft, whose Xbox brand features more than 3,000 proprietary game titles, plans to test the xCloud platform on mobile phones, tablets and desktops paired with an Xbox wireless controller through Bluetooth.

“Today, the games you play are very much dictated by the device you are using. Project xCloud’s game-streaming technology will offer you the freedom to play on the device you want without being locked to a particular device,” Kareem Choudhry, VP of gaming cloud at Microsoft, wrote in a blog post.

With console and PC games often requiring controls that are synched to multiple keys, buttons, sticks and triggers, Microsoft is developing a new, game-specific touch input overlay for players who choose to play without a controller.

Unlike other forms of digital entertainment, video games are interactive experiences that dynamically change based on player input, according to Choudhry. Delivering a high-quality experience across a variety of devices must account for different obstacles, such as low-latency video streamed remotely, and support a large, multi-user network.

In addition to solving latency, Choudhry said xCloud would aim to support graphical fidelity and framerates that preserve the developers’ original intentions and the type of input a player has available.

“Our vision for the evolution of gaming is similar to music and movies — entertainment should be available on demand and accessible from any screen,” wrote Choudhry.

 

 

 

Video Game Console Ownership Drives SVOD, Pay-TV Subs

Video game consoles such as Xbox and PlayStation have long been catalysts for over-the-top video adoption. Now the proof is in writing.

IHS Markit Oct. 3 disclosed that 89.6% of video game console owners have access to at least one OTT video subscription service, compared with 51% of consumers surveyed without a game console.

Among households with games consoles, 88.6% had one or more pay-TV services, compared to 57% of all survey respondents.

There were 49 million games consoles shipped worldwide in 2017, with North America receiving the largest share (18.4 million units). At the end of 2017, the global number of connected consoles reached 164 million, of which 83% were seventh or eighth-generation consoles from Sony and Microsoft.

The latest finding from the IHS Markit “Connected Devices and Media Consumption” service revealed that 35.6% of households owned a games console. The survey examined device ownership, use and access of subscription and free video services and decision drivers.

While gaming remains the core function, Microsoft and Sony have leveraged their existing online stores to provide digital rental and retail options in their … consoles,” Daniel Sutton, senior analyst, connected devices and media consumption, IHS Markit, wrote in the report.

Sutton said game consoles availing their platforms to third-party apps has allowed major and niche online video services to access television-centered devices, which make viewing on the main screen convenient and enable media content streaming functionality similar to what’s offered by dedicated media streaming devices, like Apple TV and Amazon FireStick.

The high penetration of SVOD/pay-TV services among game console owners is hardly surprising, according to IHS Markit. Games consoles remain premium-priced devices, meaning these households have already shown a propensity toward media spending.

Console ownership and SVOD subscription varies by country:

In the U.S., the largest market in terms of games console sales and connected consoles, more than one-third (38.2%) of respondents indicated they had access to one or more games consoles. Nearly 98% of console-owning households subscribed to at least one pay-TV or SVOD service.

The majority of Brazil’s console-owning demo subscribes to multiple video services, including traditional pay-TV and OTT video services. About 80% of console owners in Brazil had a household subscription to Netflix, which is 13% higher than the national average. More than 5% of console owners who subscribed to Netflix said that their console was their preferred way to access the service.

In Germany, there were 7.6 million connected games consoles at the end of 2017. The PlayStation 4 was the most common device, with five million connected consoles. Nearly 24% of PlayStation 4 households in Germany also owned a PlayStation 3, and 14% owned an Xbox One.

Just 22% of Japanese console owners subscribe to online video service Netflix, while 14% subscribe to pay-TV. Almost 31% of PlayStation 4 owners in Japan indicated that access to content – either for themselves or other household members – was their primary driver when purchasing the device.

About 40% of U.K. survey respondents indicated that their household owned one or more games consoles. As was uniformly the case across the all markets surveyed, the PlayStation 4 was the most popular console. Netflix is the largest online video operator in the U.K. with 31% of respondents saying they had access to Netflix, rising to 48% when looking specifically at console owners.

Amazon, Google Smart Speaker Market Hold Under Threat by China

Amazon introduced the first voice-activated smart speaker in 2014 with Alexa and Amazon Echo. According to new data from Strategy Analytics, Amazon’s global smart speaker share of shipments fell to 41% in the second quarter (ended June 30) from 44% in Q1 and 76% in Q2 2017.

By contrast, Google increased its share to 28% in Q2, up from 16% during the same period last year. China’s Alibaba finished third with Apple and JD.com rounding out the top five.

David Watkins, director at Strategy Analytics, says Amazon and Google accounted for a 69% share of global smart speaker shipments in Q2, which was down from more than 90% in Q2 2017.

“The drop is not only a reflection of growing competition in the smart speaker market but also Amazon and Google’s inability to break into the fast-growing Chinese market that is dominated by local powerhouse brands such as Alibaba, JD.com and Baidu,” Watkins said in a statement.

Indeed, Strategy Analytics contends China has the potential to become a lucrative market for smart speakers driven by voice-activated software – as underscored by Google’s recent $500 million strategic partnership with Chinese ecommerce giant JD.com.

David Mercer, VP at Strategy Analytics, believes Google and Amazon’s pursuit of volume over margin has made it difficult for third-party entry-level speakers entering the market with similar features.

However, Mercer contends the premium end of the market offers opportunity to vendors such as Roku who can entice consumers with superior build and audio quality.

“Early adopters of low-cost smart speakers such as the Echo Dot or Google Home Mini who are now looking to buy a second device will be a key target demographic for such vendors,” he said. “Apple has established an early lead in the premium smart speaker market, benefiting from a fiercely loyal fan base and strong momentum behind its Apple Music service. However, we expect the higher end smart speaker market to grow and become much more competitive moving forwards as vendors such as Samsung with its Galaxy Home speaker look to capitalize on the growing acceptance of voice as an established control mechanism.”

 

Microsoft Joins Movies Anywhere Platform

Microsoft Movies & TV has become the latest affiliate of the Movies Anywhere movie ownership rights locker service, allowing film fans to sync their Microsoft account to Movies Anywhere and centralize their digital movies purchased from Microsoft alongside those purchased from other connected retailers.

The companies made the announcement at midnight Aug. 7 in the Eastern United States (9 p.m. Aug. 6 on the West Coast).

Microsoft becomes the sixth digital retailer to link with Movies Anywhere, joining iTunes, Walmart’s Vudu, Amazon Prime Video, Google Play and FandangoNow. Consumers who purchase a movie from any of the affiliated retailers from participating studios (or redeem a digital copy from an participating Blu-ray or DVD) can view the content through any of the other retailers or on the Movies Anywhere app or website.

The Movies Anywhere platform includes 7,500 digital movies for purchase, including the Aug. 7 digital release of Deadpool 2 and its extended cut featuring 15 additional minutes of footage.

Participating studios include 20th Century Fox, Sony Pictures, Warner Bros., Universal Pictures and Walt Disney Studios.

Users can now watch their favorite redeemed and purchased digital movies from participating digital retailers on an array of platforms, including Xbox and Windows 10 devices; Amazon Fire devices; Android devices and Android TV; Chromecast; iPhone, iPad and iPod touch; Roku devices and popular browsers.

Movies Anywhere and Microsoft have also announced two limited-time offers to celebrate the new partnership. Movies Anywhere users will get an exclusive sneak peek at a bonus feature from Deadpool 2, and through Aug. 28, users who sync their account for the first time with Microsoft or another participating digital retailer will automatically receive X-Men: Days of Future Past in their digital movie collection.

“This launch has been highly anticipated by our most passionate movie fans, and we are very excited to bring Microsoft into the Movies Anywhere family,” said Karin Gilford, GM of Movies Anywhere. “Movies Anywhere brings your movie collection together quickly and easily, and we’re thrilled to share this benefit with Microsoft customers. Since our launch just nine months ago, consumers have stored more than 135 million movies on our app, and both content and quality continue to grow with the onboarding of new retailers like Microsoft.”

“We are thrilled that Microsoft now supports Movies Anywhere,” said Pedro Gutierrez, director of movies and TV at Microsoft. “With Movies Anywhere, all of your eligible movies from Microsoft can be enjoyed across your favorite screens at no extra cost. Microsoft Movies & TV allows you to watch the newest movies across your favorite devices — like Xbox — before streaming services or disc, and without subscription or membership fees.”

FandangoNow’s Cameron Douglas Elected EMA Chairman

Cameron Douglas, VP of home entertainment for Fandango’s on-demand video streaming service, FandangoNow, has been elected chairman of the Entertainment Merchants Association.

Douglas replaces Jonathan Zepp, head of worldwide movies and TV partnerships for Google Play.

Other officers include vice chair Suyin Lim, senior director, global content acquisition, Sony Interactive Entertainment; secretary Michele Edelman, EVP, marketing and content strategy, Vubiquity; and treasurer Matt Hill, head of vendor management, Amazon Prime Video.

EMA past chairmen Bob Geistman, EVP, sales and marketing for Ingram Entertainment, and Marty Graham, SVP, comScore, as well as Bill Kotzman, partner product manager, TV/film, Google/YouTube, will also serve on the association’s executive committee as at-large members.

Other members of the board are Amit Balan, head of marketing, Vudu; Lori Flynn, VP, content, Redbox Automated Retail; Ryan Gorman, director, merchandise buying, video games, Target; Pedro E. Gutierrez Jr., director, digital stores movies and TV business and category management, Microsoft; Steve Harkins, VP and GM, Baker & Taylor; Bill Miller, VP and divisional merchandise manager, DVD, Blu-ray, and Games, Trans World Entertainment; Jason Peterson, CEO, ContentBridge Systems; and Mark Vrieling, CEO, ScreenPlay Entertainment.

“In the ever-changing world of home entertainment retailing, we need an organized industry association more than ever,” said Douglas in a statement. “EMA collectively advocates for anyone involved in the consumer delivery of content, promotes and encourages adoption of standards, and establishes trade- and consumer-focused best practices. I am proud to devote my time to an organization so important to our industry.”

“The companies on EMA’s Board of Directors represent the spectrum of the home entertainment industry, including video and video games, physical and digital, and sellthrough, rental, and streaming,” said Mark Fisher, EMA president and CEO, in a statement. “These directors personify the diversity of products and business models in our industry and will help ensure that the industry’s trade association meets the needs of all market segments in our incredibly diverse industry.”

Internet Trade Group Vows Net Neutrality Legal Fight

The Internet Association, a trade group comprised of major online companies, including Netflix, Google, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft, is planning legal action following the Federal Communications Commission’s December rollback of net neutrality provisions.

The FCC, in a 3-2 vote along partisan lines, backed a proposal from chairman Ajit Pai to stop regulating the Web as a utility under Title II of the Telecommunications Act of 1934.

Specifically, the “Restoring Internet Freedom Order” gives Internet Service Providers such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon more influence over third-party broadband access and costs, among other issues.

Internet Association CEO Michael Beckerman, in a Jan. 5 statement following formal FCC disclosure of the rollback, said the action will gut net neutrality protections for consumers, startups, and other stakeholders.

Beckerman said the group intends to act as an intervenor in judicial action against the order and, along with member companies, continue pushing to restore “enforceable” net neutrality protections through the legislative process.

“The final version of Chairman Pai’s rule, as expected, … defies the will of a bipartisan majority of Americans and fails to preserve a free and open internet,” Beckerman said.