Microsoft plans to offer cable TV service from Verizon and Comcast through Xbox Live as soon as next week, according to a Bloomberg report. The plan apparently goes beyond just cable TV, as Microsoft is said to be in talks with almost two dozen content providers to bring more streaming music, sports, movies and TV to the gaming console.
Content from Comcast, Verizon and HBO, among others, would join streaming apps from Netflix, Hulu and AT&T's U-Verse, which can already be accessed via Xbox Live.
Users of the new Xbox Live Comcast and Verizon apps would be required to be subscribers of the companies' regular pay TV service within their regular service areas. U-Verse customers who use the Xbox as their primary cable box are required to purchase a $99 hardware kit from AT&T. There's no word on whether something similar would be required of Comcast and Verizon customers.
If the Comcast and Verizon reports are true, it will signal that Microsoft has opted to work with the cable companies rather than challenge them head-on for control of the living room.
The everything box
Microsoft isn't just interested in being a distribution channel for TV. It has been working to make the Xbox the go-to console for all sorts of information, communication and entertainment channels for some time.
Social networking features have been woven into the fabric of Xbox Live, allowing users to chat while watching movies and TV.
Microsoft TellMe voice recognition has also been working itself deeper into Xbox Live. Combine this technology with the Kinect and services like Bing voice search and it's not too far off to imagine a future where we surf the Web and switch back and forth between television programs, gaming and chatting with friends all by simply talking to a gaming console. In fact, it's almost here, as this demonstration with Ilya Bukshteyn of Microsoft shows:
Moving the living room into the office?
Perhaps even more interesting though, are the implications of putting cable TV on Xbox Live and then putting Xbox Live on Windows 8, which PCWorld recently confirmed is one of Redmond's goals. If the cable companies were to allow their content to go along for the ride, it would not only threaten the future of the living room set-top box, but of the entire living room entertainment center as we have known it for decades now. Forget thousand-dollar flat screens -- we could soon be watching live TV on $300 10-inch tablets wherever we happen to be.
While cable's more than 70 million US subscribers (that figure includes satellite providers) greatly exceeds the more than 23 million Xbox Live users, cord-cutting is becoming a more popular pastime, and teaming up with Microsoft is one way for cable companies to slow the bloodletting a bit.