The Xbox One: Socialising entertainment


The Wall recently carried the following article from me, commenting on Microsoft’s Xbox One announcement and its likely effects on the industry.

The games console as we know it is dead. When Microsoft unveiled the Xbox One earlier this week, it was clear that this was more than a device that would enable you to play Call of Duty or FIFA – this was, in Microsoft’s own words, “an all-in-one home entertainment system”.

Taking advantage of Sony’s rather lacklustre PS4 announcement earlier this year, Microsoft did everything it could do ramp up the hype pre-launch. This was particularly true of its social media platforms, where it pushed its hashtag #XboxReveal, used creative content and jumped on news events to get some topical momentum.

Social is more than a marketing tactic for this device: one of the most interesting points around the unveiling was the positioning of the Xbox One as aimed at audiences who are “social and want to share things.” This is a clear reflection of the way social is becoming even more seamlessly integrated into the gaming and TV experience.

The intertwining of social and broadcast is already accelerating – a simple measure is the frequency of hashtags in both TV programming and on TVCs from forward-thinking brands. The challenge for broadcasters, content providers and advertisers is to go beyond slapping a label on a conversation to try and ‘own’ it.

The best content (on TV or elsewhere) seeps into our culture, including internet culture. The global watercooler of social media is now the primary fuel for this effect. With social features sitting alongside other content, Xbox One further blurs the lines between media platforms to create a virtuous circle of entertainment and conversation, one feeding the other.

While it seems unlikely that the use of mobile devices as a ‘second screen’ in the living room will be outmoded by the features Xbox One is introducing just yet; the distance between broadcast, gaming, content and social platforms is undeniably shrinking fast.

Whether it’s on a mobile, tablet, laptop or on in a sidebar of your main TV screen, social is now an integral part of the entertainment experience. Integral not only during the programming or within the gameplay, but the whole cycle. Content producers use social data to influence programming. Viewers and gamers use social to help choose content or games. Social features enhance viewing or participation “in the moment”, and afterwards extends the experience with added value (and added revenue opportunities), follow up conversation, and anticipation for the next instalment.

The introduction of a ‘Trending’ section on the Xbox One appears to be taking advantage of this behaviour. Wondering what all your friends are currently watching? You’ll be able to see with the flick of a wrist. Want to talk to them about it? Tell your Xbox to bring up Skype. The key to the success of this way of consuming content is in execution – being helpful without being obtrusive, making the features feel natural and native to the user.

Serious Xbox gamers already see Xbox Live as a social network, but the trending feature extends this to the entertainment spectrum, and a wider range of users. If Microsoft get this right, we will start to think of Xbox as a social network in its own right. With around 46 million Xbox Live accounts this is significant – and remember that unlike Facebook or Twitter, Xbox Live subscriptions cost money. It will be interesting to see how trending content from Twitter conversations correlates with what’s actually being viewed on Xbox. The implications for data collection, insights and targeting are massive, which is why both Google and Apple have also been trying to crack this.

As the lines blur between the TV, gaming, internet and social media experiences, marketers have a huge opportunity to foster deeper engagement and provide real value to the conversation. Brands are all now part of an ecosystem of entertainment where the people formerly known as the audience are in control, and where it’s never been easier for those people to interact with their friends as part of (or instead of) the entertainment. Because of this, tapping into existing conversations is essential.

Xbox is clearly, and so far successfully, positioning itself as an entertainment brand rather than simply a gaming brand. With video games overtaking film and music revenues during the past two years, this is hardly surprising. Take Call of Duty or Halo – these are more than just games. They garner more interest from the media than Hollywood blockbusters, COD is scripted by Hollywood writers and Halo is even being made into a Spielberg-produced TV series. They are also massive on social media, trending organically to astronomical levels pre, during and post-launch.

Over the next few years the battleground won’t necessarily be PS4 vs Xbox One, but mobile versus console, perhaps console versus cable TV, or even console versus Facebook. The Xbox One is making a strong play, betting big against some big players. Exciting games are now table stakes, and exclusive content from the likes of Spielberg ups the ante. The platform that can integrate social features in a seamless way, across multiple consumer devices will likely triumph. And for brands, integrating social capabilities will be just as important to maintain relevance in a rapidly evolving media ecosystem.