The Bill Gates (et al.) keynote is still going on as I write this, but the press releases are out. The overview in Microsoft Showcases Windows Innovations to Help Customers Navigate Through the Digital “World of More” is frankly rather clearer than the rushed presentation (narrative version here). Skipping to the new news:
DIRECTV. Microsoft and DIRECTV Inc. will announce a multiyear agreement that will enable the flow of DIRECTV digital content between Windows-based PCs, DIRECTV’s digital set-top boxes, PlaysForSure™ devices and the Xbox 360 system. Consumers will also be able to use a Media Center PC to enjoy high-definition DIRECTV content.
Sky Networks. Microsoft and British Sky Broadcasting (Sky), the leading pay-TV provider in the U.K. and Ireland, today announced an agreement to create a Media Center PC version of Sky’s forthcoming broadband content service, Sky by broadband. The core service will allow millions of Sky TV customers to access video content via the PC, with hundreds of movies to download and hundreds of sports clips to stream.
URGE music service. MTV Networks’ forthcoming digital music service, URGE, will be deeply integrated into Windows Media Player 11 and offer more than 2 million songs from the major labels and thousands of independents, as well as exclusive MTV Networks programming and original content. URGE will also be available through Windows Media Player 11 for Windows XP.
URGE has it’s own press release, but the bottom line is that it offers a subscription service as well as individual item purchases.
For Media Center PC’s there are a variety of content deals with Comedy Central’s MotherLoad, mtvU, Showtime Interactive, Turner Broadcasting System Inc.’s GameTap, and VH1 VSPOT. There are also some new Windows Live services for Media Center:
Live.com TV gadgets. Live.com provides the ideal location for services that make it easier to find and manage TV-related experiences across multiple devices. Customers can easily see TV programs scheduled for recording along with best bets. These services provide a window into one’s Media Center PC from almost anywhere in the world.
Live.com TV recommendations. Live.com enables customers to easily rate shows they’ve watched on their TV via their Media Center PC. As users rate more shows, they get better, more personalized TV recommendations, which they can share with their community.
Finally, there were the gadgets:
Toshiba America Inc., Tatung Co. and LG Electronics have signed up to venture into the difficult territory of Portable Media Centers albeit with new media services like Starz.
Update: Peter Moore came on at the end with a rapid fire list of Xbox 360 facts and figures, but the big one is that they expect to ship up to 5.5 million units by June and have added a 3rd manufacturer to increase supply.
Starz beat the press release stampede at CES by announcing a new Internet movie service named Vongo today with partners Microsoft and Sony:
Starz Entertainment Group LLC (SEG) today announced the premiere of VONGO — a new video download application and service for broadband that delivers movies and other video content over the Internet for playback on Windows-based PCs, laptops, and select portable media devices, as well as on a TV.
“Vongo will provide the key content application that will drive a new era in portable video delivered over the Internet,” said Robert B. Clasen, president and CEO of SEG. “By combining the wide array of programming choices on Vongo with a host of new portable media devices being announced this week at the Consumer Electronics Show, consumers will be able to seize control of their video and watch whatever, wherever and whenever they want.”
Vongo subscribers will have unlimited access to more than 1,000 movies and video selections, as well as a live, streaming Starz TV channel, for a monthly cost of $9.99. Members may download movie and video selections to three eligible devices of their choice per account, allowing for multiple viewing options and family enjoyment. Additionally, select popular pay-per-view titles are available for $3.99 per movie. Vongo is currently available for broadband subscribers in the United States at http://www.vongo.com/.
Starz also announced the first in a series of planned agreements that will extend Vongo’s reach as the premier broadband entertainment service for consumers. Initial partners include Sony CONNECT and Microsoft. Sony CONNECT will make Vongo a cornerstone of its new CONNECT Video service, to be launched later this year. SEG worked with Microsoft to ensure that subscription video content from Vongo provides the highest-quality viewing experience on Windows-based PCs, laptops, and select portable media devices, as well as on a TV.
Items of notes:
Vongo has a monthly subscription model like a premium cable TV channel as opposed to a per item fee like Apple’s iTunes music and video store.
Starz has secured exclusive Internet distribution rights from movie studio partners for whom it currently distributes films to cable and satellite TV, and apparently Microsoft’s Windows Media digital rights management was key. Starz is also understandably taking pains to assure their current channel partners that this new channel won’t cannibalize their businesses.
Starz’s previous partner in a similar offering called Starz Ticket launched in 2004 was RealNetworks. They seem to be out in the cold – “He also noted that Starz Ticket, launched in 2004 with RealNetworks Inc., will continue as a service, but that the focus for Starz will be on Vongo. ”
A great deal of the analyst buzz seems to be about the portable device options although watching movies from any source on the small screens hasn’t really arrived yet. Mention is made of new portable video devices being announced this week, so presumably support won’t be limited to the few Portable Media Centers.
Starz’s parent company is Liberty Media Group whose CEO-elect is former Microsoft and Oracle CFO, Greg Maffei.