From Microsoft’s Xbox, a glimpse of the future of TV
By Matt Vella, senior editor
FORTUNE — For some, Nancy Tellem knows all the best secrets. Tellem is the president of Microsoft’s Xbox Entertainment Studios, the division responsible for creating original programming for the company’s popular games console. Like Netflix with House of Cards and YouTube with its various channels, Microsoft is planning to begin pumping out exclusive shows to device owners. And Tellem is at the helm.
The company’s first project is a TV program based on the Halo series of games — not surprising considering the franchise has generated over $3 billion in sales since its initial release in 2001. (This has also made her the object of intense focus by some, well, more avid fans.) “The next step was go deeper in narrative into the Halo mythology by creating a premium series,” Tellem said today during a panel on the future of content at Fortune‘s Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen, Colo.
Microsoft (MSFT) announced the strategy earlier this year during a press conference introducing its next-generation Xbox One game console. Details were sparse, but at the time Tellem revealed that the company was working on the program with director Steven Spielberg. “Spielberg is a huge Halo fan and a big gamer,” she reiterated today.
Tellem also added a few more details to the picture. She described more interactive shows coming out. “Unlike developing a show and adding interactivity after the fact,” she said, “we are going to start from the beginning.” Tellem did not give specific examples but said, “You can’t have interactivity for interactivity’s sake.” Future programming, which she said the company is actively working on, could include live events, news and unscripted or reality shows.
Tellem has had a storied career in TV, much of it at CBS (CBS). She was involved with the creation of hit shows including Everybody Loves Raymond, CSI, and ER. “I’ve always been interested in the intersection of content and tech,” she said, adding that the installed base of Xboxes was a major factor in luring her to Microsoft. The company has sold over 70 million Xboxes and has some 48 million subscribers to its Xbox Live online service.
But Tellem said she doesn’t see traditional television disappearing anytime soon. “Television is not going anywhere,” she said. “The package is going to change and you’re going to see a la cart options.” At that point one of her fellow panelists, CEO of Guggenheim Digital Media Ross Levinsohn, chimed in: “The truth is, the fact you can get people of Nancy’s quality to do this is really validating.”