E3: Microsoft adds ESPN, NBA, Nickelodeon, Univision to Xbox Live

Microsoft Corp. has announced a slew of entertainment partnerships as it seeks to turns its Xbox 360 video game console into an all-purpose media device, including agreements with Nickelodeon, ESPN, the National Basketball Assn. and Univision, among others.

The announcements, made Monday at the company’s press conference at USC’s Galen Center kicking off the annual E3 video game conference in Los Angeles, highlights a major shift in Microsoft’s positioning of Xbox as more than just a way to play “Halo” and “Call of Duty.”

In fact, Microsoft now plans to use “Xbox” as its brand for entertainment offerings on any and all digital devices, from PCs to phones to tablets to the console.

“Xbox has historically stood for gaming for hard-core gamers,” said Yusuf Mehdi, chief marketing officer for Microsoft’s interactive entertainment division. “Now it stands for entertainment for a broad audience.”

Microsoft has sold more than 66 million Xbox 360 consoles worldwide, 40 million of which are connected to Xbox Live (more than half pay for the service, giving them access to the full suite of entertainment offerings).


Thanks to partners such as Netflix, the amount of time spent on Xbox Live with movies, TV shows and music surpassed those spent on playing games this spring for the first time since the console launched seven years ago. Mehdi said Xbox Live users spend an average of 84 hours a month on the service.

With the addition of ESPN live broadcasts, including “Monday Night Football,” Xbox Live expands its footprint in sports considerably. Previously, ESPN viewers got a more limited selection of games on the Xbox 360. Only users who subscribe to certain cable services will be able to access ESPN, including Time Warner Cable, Verizon Fios and Comcast Xfinity.

As for live basketball games, viewers will need to pay an NBA League Pass subscription fee to watch the group’s 2,400 games a year.

Microsoft said it plans to double the amount of non-gaming entertainment content on Xbox Live in the next year through similar deals.

In addition to announcing new partners, Microsoft said it will eventually replace its Zune subscription and download music service with Xbox Music, a digital service with more than 30 million songs designed to compete more effectively with music services such as Spotify, Rhapsody and Apple Inc.'s iTunes.

It is also launching a series of applications that let consumers enjoy media on multiple devices simultaneously – looking at a map of the mythical land of Westeros on a tablet while watching “Game of Thrones,” for example – that will be called “Xbox Smart Glass.”

To keep hard-core gamers happy, Microsoft also showed off a number of big-budget action titles that are expected to debut in the coming months, including “Halo 4,” “Resident Evil 6,” “Call of Duty: Black Ops 2" and “Gears of War Judgment.”

And to keep attendees from getting too bored by the slew of game developers and executives on stage, several celebrities were trotted out. Among them: former gridiron great Joe Montana demonstrating the upcoming Madden NFL football game; “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone showing off a new game based on that famed Comedy Central cartoon; and Usher, who performed on stage to help promote the dancing game “Dance Central 3.”


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