My Interview with Microsoft’s Media Center Bloggers, Part Two

Part Two: The Importance of Partners and More on the Future of Media Center

Ok, Monday’s part one of a four part series of interviews with members of the Microsoft Media Center team, Charlie Owen, Sean Alexander and Matt Goyer, focused on the Media Center product itself — where it’s been, where it is today and where it is going. As part of Media Center’s ongoing development though there have been significant partnerships announced over the past two years. Today we are going to look at those partnerships and their significance to Microsoft’s strategy.

Thomas Hawk (TH): Hi Guys. Microsoft has recently announced and developed strategic relationships with many companies that some might view as your distinct competitors in the Media Center market. You announced a partnership to develop the user interface for Comcast’s DVR that is currently being rolled out in a pilot program in Washington State as well as a partnership with TiVo to help them with their TiVoToGo technology — particularly as it relates to getting TiVo content on to portable devices. You guys also are currently working with SBC to develop technology for their upcoming IPTV efforts. And very recently you’ve announced strategic partnerships with both Verizon and Alcatel. How do you manage to work with all these companies and to provide them Microsoft technology while at the same time recognizing that they may be distinct competitors in the home media market?

Charlie Owen (CO): It’s all about partnerships — any company who thinks they can make or change a market on their own won’t be the leader for long.

Sean Alexander (SA): Charlie is right – it’s about partnerships and building trust. For example, we had a partner come in last minute for a launch, a company that we compete with as well as partner with. There were nay-sayers on both sides. They were over a month behind the rest of our partners in development but Charlie and team recognized the good that could come from pulling all-nighters with their development team to help them get ready for launch.

It’s people like Charlie and the rest of the team that make the sacrifices and set the goals that allow the trust to be established and bigger and even better things to happen.

(TH): HP has obviously been a partner of yours in the development of Media Center from the beginning. How do you guys feel about the HP announcement at CES that they are building a Linux based Media Hub?

(CO): HP was the very first Media Center OEM and we have a strong partnership — the more innovation we have for the digital home the better. It’s hard to have much of a reaction until the product is shipped and we see what it is all about.

Matt Goyer (MG) As I wrote about previously on my blog, HP has announced these types of devices in the past and we have not yet seen any come to market. Though if one did, more competition and innovation in this space will only benefit the consumer and mean better products from all of us.

(SA): There have always been a diverse number of strategies taken by our partners and customers. I think there’s some really interesting work happening in the DLNA on interoperability between different devices running different OSes in the living room and the Windows PC. TiVo is widely reported to run on Linux, yet their new TiVotoGo service communicates with a Windows XP PC and even supports conversion of content to Windows Media for playback on Portable Media Centers. Multiple operating systems support Windows Media and even Windows Media DRM. Anyone can license and port it. We’re a platform company first and foremost.

(TH): Another of the partnerships that is pretty innovative with Media Center is the movie technology that you guys have incorporated with Cinema Now and Movielink. Essentially, as it relates to movies, this is pretty much video on demand here and now today. Not to pick on Netflix or Blockbuster, but when I can pull all of the new releases up on a pay per view basis instead of joining a service or driving down to the video store this seems more compelling to me. How are these services being received and what improvements might we see from these services in the future?

(CO): They are well received.

(SA): I use them, particularly for business trips when I want to watch a movie on the flight out. I think what CinemaNow is doing with delivery of HD content using Windows Media Video High Definition is interesting. I hope to see more of it.

(MG): I can envision a number of opportunities in the future for our Movie Portal to deliver new movie consumption experiences with the help of our existing providers as well as some new ones.

(TH): Well movies on demand is definitely the future. In addition to the movie video on demand, you guys are starting to provide original content from people like NPR directly via Media Center. Will we see more direct content coming through Media Center in the future? Will it be coming to us through MSN TV?

(CO): Well first, to clarify, we, Windows eHome, aren’t providing original content from partners to the consumer — we provide the platform that allows partners to provide content to end users. Therein lies a subtle yet important difference. For example, when you select NPR in Online Spotlight you are going to NPRs website (designed specifically for Media Center and the remote control) and consuming NPR content from them directly. We will absolutely see more content offerings from a wide variety of companies in Media Center.

(MG): I would love to see a blogosphere movement to generate and consume video content through MCE; instead of podcasting let’s start exploring videocasting. A lot of us in the blogosphere spend a significant amount of time complaining about the unwillingness or reluctance of the big content providers to open up their content. Instead of depending on these big content providers let’s empower users to create, distribute and view their own content.

(TH): It seems that photo sites have been getting a lot of attention lately — from Google’s Picasa to Flickr to photoblogging. In fact a new add on was announced just last week allowing TiVo users to access Flickr. Anything new we might expect from the “My Pictures” feature of Media Center?

(MG): There has been a lot of exciting things going on in the photo space and I would love to see some of that innovation spill over into a 10’ application written by either a teenage hot shot coder or a partner. As for what we can expect from Media Center? I’m not allowed to steal Bill G’s thunder — you’ll just have to wait until he announces something.

(TH): One of the plug-ins that is currently available for Media Center is the XM Satellite plug-in. Will we see a Sirius plug-in at some point? As we all know, Howard Stern will be there shortly.

(CO): We are excited about the XM Radio offering for Media Center. However, we can’t comment on any unreleased partner apps — if you want to know about just [Insert Partner Name Here] the best thing to do is go ask them.

(TH): Fair enough, Stern on Media Cente
r Edition though would be pretty hot.

In part three of our interview series we will discuss how Charlie, Sean and Matt integrate their personal blogging into their jobs at Microsoft. Stay tuned.

Read on to Part Three.

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One Comment

  1. Anonymous says:

    Howard Stern? Why bother you have Opie and Anthony on XM today and are much more funnier and entertaining.