New apps boost console's entertainment inroads

Comcast’s Xfinity TV service, HBO Go and MLB.TV will launch on Xbox Live Tuesday as Microsoft continues to turn its Xbox 360 videogame console into a broader entertainment platform.

With the addition of the new entertainment options, Xbox Live now offers 36 apps, most of which are accessible using Kinect’s voice and gesture controls, and makes content searchable using Bing.

Microsoft relaunched its Xbox Live interface in December, as a way to offer more video programming, especially TV to Xbox Live’s more than 40 million subscribers worldwide that pony up $60 a year.

So far, Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube and ESPN have proved the most popular apps available, according to Yusuf Mehdi, chief marketing officer of Microsoft’s interactive entertainment business.

When Xbox Live relaunched with more TV programming, U.S. users watched more than an hour of video per day on the Xbox 360.

Over the past year, Microsoft has seen entertainment usage on the console grow 30% with users playing games, listening to music, watching movies and TV shows, Mehdi said. In the U.S., members spend an average of 84 hours a month on Xbox Live, versus the 150 hours a month the average person spends watching TV.

Purchases of movies through the Zune Video Marketplace have also increased considerably, with Microsoft touting Xbox Live as the No. 2 transactional service for films behind Apple’s iTunes. The figures don’t include Netflix subscriptions.

What has surprised even Microsoft is usage of the Xbox 360 by families, with consumption of family content increasing 268% since December.

“A year ago, most people wouldn’t have believed that would be a phenomenon with the Xbox core,” Mehdi said.

The eventual availability of Xfinity TV, from the nation’s largest cable operator, HBO Go and MLB, had been expected. But the companies needed more time to make their services — already available online, through some web-connected TVs or through apps on Apple’s iPad — accessible on the Xbox 360. Microsoft also wanted to make sure content on the services could be found using Bing.

HBO had been teasing the launch of HBO Go on Xbox 360 since mid-March with a half-minute teaser. Comcast had also previously announced in October that its Xfinity On Demand service would eventually become available on the gaming console.

Users need to prove they are paying customers of Comcasta and HBO, as well as the MLB app in order to access those services.

All content on Comcast’s Xfinity, HBO Go and the 2,400 live and archived baseball games on MLB’s app will be available.

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