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We find out more about plans for the Xbox Live Video Store

The Xbox Live Video Store has opened its digital doors for the first time outside of the US - in the UK, Canada and selected European territories.

To find out why it took to long to leave US boundaries, and what the future holds for the service, GamesIndustry spent some time with Stephen McGill, Microsoft's head of Gaming and Entertainment UK, and Robin Burrowes, Xbox Live marketing manager for the UK. Why has it taken so long for the Video Store to make it from the US?

Robin Burrowes: It's just readiness really, making sure that what we've got is absolutely right. We were always going to launch it before the end of 2007, it was industry expectation rather than anything else to be honest. We were always going to deliver this by the end of 2007 so we've kept to our promise.

Stephen McGill: And also from the technical point of view we needed to get the recent update out there ready for the service. We could have launched last week but we decided to have a little bit of a gap. That was a pretty big update, we've got a lot of great new stuff for consumers.

Are you pleased with the evolution of Xbox Live?

RB: We've been around for five years now since the service launched globally, and to have the video service launch in the context of the full update, it just really takes the service up a level — it's a whole broadening of the proposition.

So we're not only offering hundreds of great arcade titles for instance, there are also Xbox originals where you can download original Xbox games, as well as continued focus on the whole social aspect of Xbox Live. So having a friends list, being able to see what they're up to, seeing whether people are online or offline, it kind of mirrors what's going on from a broader social networking point of view.

Those scenarios are all part and parcel of where Xbox Live is right now, and that's not where Xbox Live was even when the 360 launched, because they're all recent evolutions. So the Video Store comes in the context of that.

SM: And when we set a target of 10 million people [registered to Xbox Live] by the end of our financial year, going into E3 in July next year, we've already surpassed 8 million worldwide, and I'm sure we'll have even more up-to-date stats when we come out of the holiday season.

For Microsoft the concept of offering a platform for film downloads is nothing new, but how important is it that the Video Store should do it seamlessly?

SM: Being seamless is incredibly important. There are lots of service providers out there who do video on demand. For us right now we're focused on movies and music, and we have some great partners on the music side.

I think with the Xbox 360 the install base is incredibly strong, will continue to grow over this Christmas and into 2008, and it's a simple, seamless experience. Just get some Points, connect to Xbox Live — it's a simple service that offers a great consumer experience.

I think consumers will have a great time downloading content, starting with 27 movies that will rise to 40 by the end of this calendar year, and lots more still to come in 2008.

How does the Video Store complement the existing HD-DVD peripheral?

SM: For the Xbox 360, from design all the way upwards, it's about consumer choice, what the consumer wants to do. Some will want to do it differently, about personalisation, the user interface, and how they access entertainment.

Gaming has certainly been the core of what we've been about, now we're broadening this out to other entertainment. So do you want to stick with DVDs, if maybe you haven't got an HDTV yet? When you're ready to jump into those experiences then we do the HD-DVD offer.

That's come down in price a lot in the past year, and of course we have the five free movies offer into Christmas and next year, which has really helped create some excitement around that.

HDTVs are phenomenally well-priced at the moment, and a lot will sell over Christmas, so we'll see many more people jumping in the high definition world.

But then some people don't want to go out and buy a disc or anything, so download rental is more their cup of tea. So it's about choice, whatever you want to do, however you want to get your content.

So it's not really about opting for one or the other then, it's about providing a number of different avenues into the content?

SM: Yes, I don't think it's going to be a long time before consumers want to make a choice about content — there are some things they'll want to own, other things they'll be happy to rent. So it's all about personal choice.

There were some comments made recently by Michael Bay, who felt that Microsoft might be opting for a different strategy, bypassing the next-generation of DVDs altogether and opting for a download-only service in the long term. What would you say to that?

SM: I didn't read his comments, although I heard about them, but hey, he's allowed his personal thoughts — I think he clarified some of those thoughts about 24 hours later — but for us we're focused on HD-DVD movies working with great partners, and we wouldn't have that offer for five free movies if we didn't believe in that format.

But we also believe in downloadable content, whether it's music, or movies — it's not about one solution, because one solution isn't going to work for everybody.

The Xbox 360 is still considered a gaming device at its heart — do you think it will ever be regarded for games and more general entertainment in roughly equal quantities?

SM: Well, we're seeing it as both, I think some demographics are seeing it as both. I think it comes from a little bit of heritage of people seeing us, certainly with the original console, with lots of shooters and driving games.

And we're a gamer's console, and that's borne out by the fact that gamers love our console more than any other console. But while we still want the games for gamers - that's our ecosystem of retail, publishers, developers - a lot of our focus, energy and resources are going on broadening our appeal, both from a game point of view and an entertainment point of view.

It might take time for people to perceive that on an equal footing, but a lot of what we're doing is around broadening our appeal to kids, to women, to girlfriends, mums and dads to a degree - whether that's gaming or broader entertainment.

Part of the 360's success can be attributed to having key software titles launch at a regular rate throughout its lifecycle to date - will you replicate that with video releases?

RB: Very much so, and very much by working with the partners as well, so every time there's a new release that comes into the video on demand window we'll try and make sure that that's communicated to our audience.

Titles like Ocean's 13, titles like Harry Potter with the great franchise that it's got behind it - they're certainly titles we'll get behind in our physical marketing solutions.

And what's the lag between a film being released in the cinema and it coming to the Store?

RB: It's about five months. Typically what happens in the way that the industry works is that first you get the theatrical release, then three months later the DVD retail and rental window opens, and then VOD and pay-per-view is currently set 60 days after that.

So when we get the slots, it's typically about five months out, a slot between five and eight months, and in that time frame it's really up to us to make sure that all the Xbox Live members know about the new movies that are coming.

And ideally those people that own an Xbox 360 but aren't currently members of Xbox Live know about it, so it becomes a reason for them to be part of the service.

Would you prefer to see the VOD window closer to that of the DVD release?

RB: There's a lot of talk, I'm not going to speculate on it today, but there is a lot of talk that one day this could happen and we could see convergence between one and the other, and that could only be a good thing for us if it happens.

Stephen McGill is Microsoft's head of Gaming and Entertainment UK, and Robin Burrowes is Xbox Live marketing manager for the UK. Interview by Phil Elliott.

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