For Nancy Tellem, pitch meetings these days start with a demonstration of everything that the Xbox platform has to offer content creators.
The former CBS Entertainment honcho has been making the rounds of agencies and creatives in the past few months since she was tapped to lead Microsoft’s Xbox Entertainment Studios in September. Her charter is to develop original content for the fast-growing platform. That means everything from TV-style narrative skeins to lifestyle and sports programming that harness the interactive and multi-screen features that distinguish the viewing experience on Xbox.
The response from scribes and producers to her tutorial has been “amazing,” Tellem told Variety. But she’s also found that “most people don’t understand all the capabilities of the Xbox. At a time when the TV biz is buzzing about the potential for second-screen activity to drive higher viewer engagement with TV skeins, Tellem’s unit is demonstrating to industryites that Xbox “gives you the ability to do all of that on one screen in a very integrated fashion,” she said.
“You’re dealing with a new platform that is really open-ended. We can put on programming in whatever format and whatever length the project calls for,” she said. “You’re not limited by the constraints that are found elsewhere. This gives us the opportunity to really support our talent’s vision.”
Tellem has also found that bizzers are surprised to learn the size and scope of the Xbox user base. The Xbox Live Gold subscription service, which costs users $60 a year and houses most of the premium content and apps, has grown to 46 million subscribers, a 15% gain year-to-year gain. The number of TV and entertainment offerings nearly tripled last year.
Beyond its stronghold of gamers in the 16-34 range, the Xbox Live audience is almost 40% female, and viewing of family-friendly content via the platform is one of its fastest-growing genres.
Xbox Entertainment Studios has about 150 employees, mostly spread among Los Angeles, where Tellem is based, Microsoft’s HQ in Redmond, Wash., and Vancouver. Most staffers at present are focused on the interactive and technology development side, but Tellem is slowly but surely recruited creative execs to fuel the original programming push. Original content is key to turning the Xbox into a destination unto itself in the eyes of Hollywood. Movies and TV shows provided by Netflix, Hulu, Epix and other partners are already popular on Xbox Live.
“It all starts with compelling content. When you have that content, then you can enrich the experience,” Tellem said. “We’re offering the creative community that chance to develop stories that can light up this platform.”
After settling in at Microsoft during the past few months, Tellem is now starting to put the spotlight on Xbox Entertainment Studios efforts, starting with a presentation on Monday at the All Things D digital confab in Dana Point, Calif. She’s still demurring on specifics about projects in the works, but emphasized that the studio is starting to hum with development activity.
“I’ve learned so much in the short time I’ve been here,” she said. “There really aren’t any rules. When I talk to my friends in more traditional (TV) jobs, I realize how refreshing it is to be looking at things a little differently now.”