"I propose to consider the question, 'Can machines think?'" begins Alan Turing's 1950 seminal work Computing Machinery and Intelligence. In his paper, Turning introduces the concept - simplified here for brevity - of whether a machine would be indistinguishable from a human based on the one-on-one questioning and observation from a third-party observer.
Following the announcement of the Xbox One on May 21st, there was a collective sense of … confusion. Gamers were disappointed in the focus on entertainment. Industry observers were underwhelmed and asking more questions. PS3 fanatics were basking in schadenfreude given a somewhat muted reaction to the earlier PS4 announcement. Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai commented at D: All Things Digital that, "The most important thing we need to make sure we do at least initially is that we all agree and understand that the PS4 is a great videogame console that appeals to video gamers. If we miss that part then I don't think we get the initial establishment of the console." As a moderate gamer, admittedly a long-term Sony brand fanatic, and a voracious consumer of pay television and numerous OTT providers (Netflix, Amazon, etc.), my reaction to the Xbox One was admittedly tepid.
Win the Living Room
Microsoft revealed that the majority of users spend more time with content consumption than gameplay. Microsoft's partnership with over a 100 content providers was not enough, as they announced new content initiatives: a multi-year agreement with the NFL to create new immersive video experiences, a Steven Spielberg-produced television series based on the Halo franchise, and the Xbox One Guide, an integration with a connected cable or satellite box.
While many expected increased focus on the video experience, I believe the "Guide" may be the Trojan Horse that helps Microsoft change the behavior in the living room and ultimately change the dynamics between the pay television and OTT providers.
Power of the EPG
The very essence of discovery is the creation, definition, and limitation of choice. While Google and Bing jockey to be the preferred search engine for the Web audience, the selection of a search engine is effectively creating a context of choice. Search results, i.e., choice, will be determined by one of those two providers. As long as the results provide value to the user, they generally do not care about the wizard behind the machine, based on the digital sweat of thousands of talented techies, magical unicorns fed by the Keebler Elves, or even Skynet.
As posted on Microsoft's site: "Connect your cable or satellite box to Xbox One and watch all your favorite television shows right through the console. All your favorite channels. All your favorite shows. All with the sound of your voice. You can even create your own personal channel by pinning the shows and apps you watch most. Gone are the days of switching inputs to watch TV or play a movie. Xbox One can do it all."
At a fundamental level, the Guide is relying on the following concepts:
- Control the discovery, control the content
- Control the content, control the consumer
While it's too soon to judge the full capabilities - or limitations - of the Guide, directionally, it appears to be positioning the Xbox as a unification of linear broadcast content and digital OTT content. SmartGlass, Kinect, and voice activation will, at the very least, provide additional mechanisms for increased methods of interaction with the Xbox. All three will likely find themselves augmenting gameplay. And, I suspect, all three will be fundamental for how the Xbox helps manage both discovery of apps and discovery of content.
During the announcement, Yusuf Mehdi began with the fundamental premise What if a single device could provide all your entertainment? He emphasized:
- Voice control of both Xbox navigation and integration with the television (e.g., selecting channels, selecting shows)
- A "trending" section representative of your friends and the Xbox community
- "Instant switching" between television, games, video content, and music, including video-specific gestures
- "Snap mode" to overlay and interact television and applications
- Additional interaction with Kinect and SmartGlass
By focusing on a personalized set of content recommendations (i.e., the consumer's preference of shows and channels, the consumer's explicit set of favorites, recommendations based on friends and the community at large) combined with new modes of interaction, the Guide begins its long-term goal to replace the traditional remote control and EPG. While content programmers fight with pay television providers over channel bundling and channel placement in the EPG, the Xbox is attempting to circumvent that entire step in today’s television viewing process.
As many iOS application developers learned, application discovery continues to be a challenge. However, placement in the App Store (whether originating organically from usage and elevating to the top of the various charts or explicit promotion directly by Apple) can be the catalyst for adoption. The Guide - and the broader Xbox One footprint on the television viewing experience - will attempt to play a similar role in influencing video - digital and broadcast - consumption.
Just as the end goal of the Turning test was to determine who's the human and who's the computer, we can think of the Guide as doing the same with content. At some point, we may not know which content is live broadcast, time-shifted broadcast, PPV broadcast, subscription OTT, VOD OTT, or PPV OTT. And, if Xbox has its way, we just may not care.