Everyone agrees that there might just be too many TV shows right now, but are there too many platforms? Microsoft seems to think so, as this morning the company revealed that it’d be shutting down its epic plans for original series to be rolled out over the next few years.
Announced in April, the Xbox Originals slate included two different "Halo" spin-off projects and a wide range of scripted and unscripted shows; now, much of what was planned will never see the light of day, while Microsoft entertainment and digital media president Nancy Tellem and Xbox Entertainment executive VP Jordan Levin continue on with Microsoft to oversee the shows still in production and work on elements like Xbox’s interactive sports content.
While some of the Xbox Originals programming had launched, including live coverage of the Bonnaroo music festival and "Every Street United," an unscripted series about street soccer, most of their plans were nebulous at best — again, that’s TWO "Halo" projects they had planned.
"Sources paint a picture of a disorganized studio that struggled to close deals and lacked a fully fleshed-out business model. This inability to execute has turned off potential studio partners, they say, complicating the process of securing premium content," Recode reports.
And indeed, during the preliminary previews, Tellem and Levin were not able to answer direct questions about what the actual goal for its programming was. Did Microsoft hope to sell more consoles, or sign up new subscribers for its Xbox Live service? The answer in April was "We don’t know." And unfortunately, today their lack of vision became apparent.
When presenting their line-up, Tellem and Levin seemed to be operating under a belief that they had all the time and resources they might need to define the development of Xbox Originals — to define an entirely new approach to television. But their plans, it appears, weren’t coalescing fast enough.
This news means that a lot of people are losing their jobs, but more interesting are the implications for original series on gaming consoles. There’s no denying that Xboxes and Playstations have gone from being gamer-only devices to legitimate centerpieces of a digitally-enabled household. (The only two boxes in my living room are the cable box/DVR and a PS3, through which I do all of my Netflix, Amazon and Hulu streaming.) But Microsoft is unwilling to gamble on the broader applications for its product.
The video game industry is a juggernaut that shows no signs of slowing down; in fact, in a recent study announced by NBC during a TCA presentation, the youngest generation (currently dubbed "Generation Z" by marketers) prioritizes gaming over television. So "Don’t fix what ain’t broke" is an understandable philosophy — in order to succeed, the Xbox Originals slate would have had to create a framework for bringing in new audiences as well as people who only turn on the box to waste some n00bs. It is, without a doubt, daunting to imagine.
But now, for those interested in the intersection between digital and traditional television, the new question mark is the upcoming series "Powers," a long-gestating show that, after failing to launch on FX in 2011, Sony picked up as its first high-profile scripted drama project.
Almost simultaneously as Microsoft moves away from making TV, Sony has announced a director for the series (industry veteran David Slate) and adding new cast members (including Susan Heyward as co-lead Deena Pilgrim). The most important announcement to come for "Powers," though, is who gets enlisted to star in the series: The character of Christian Walker essentially carries the comics on which "Powers" is based, and the level of talent and star power of whoever’s cast will be a major indicator of not just Sony’s investment in the project, but the show’s chances.
"Powers" remains a bright spot on a disappointing day, because while there may be too many cable channels, the promise of digital platforms is the chance to try something new. After all, you never know where you might find your new favorite show, and Xbox seemed like it had the opportunity to really experiment with the medium. Unfortunately, that proved not to be the case.