×

Nancy Tellem, Jordan Levin Leave Xbox Entertainment Studios Amid Mass Microsoft Layoffs

Xbox Entertainment Studios is officially no more.

The last staffers of the production entity headed by Nancy Tellem were let go Wednesday as part of the broader layoffs of 3,000 people at the software giant.

Tellem and her top lieutenant Jordan Levin had been trying to salvage some of the projects that they’d been developing under the Xbox Studios banner by bringing them to a new studio. But the pair had initially expected to stay through year’s end at Microsoft, which would have given them more time to sort through the thicket of rights issues involved in relocating the scripted and nonscripted projects.

Now, rights in some cases are reverting back to the creators, and Tellem and Levin are officially free agents.

Xbox Studios became a casualty of the dramatic shift in strategy at Microsoft after Satya Nadella took over the CEO reins from company stalwart Steve Ballmer.

The Ballmer regime had backed a strategy of developing original programming for Xbox in an effort to make Microsoft’s videogame platform more of an entertainment-focused hub. But Nadella has said the company needs to hone its focus on its core software business, which meant layoffs and pulling back on other initiatives such as Xbox Studios.

In April, Xbox Studios made a splashy presentation to advertisers as part of the digital NewFronts, talking up a slew of vidgame-based TV series, including “Gears of War,” “Age of Empires,” plus other wholly original projects such as comedy “Deadlands,” from the banner behind Adult Swim’s “Robot Chicken.” Sarah Silverman and Michael Cera were among the notables also working on comedy projects for Xbox Studios.

Xbox Studios had also been developing a TV spin on “Halo” for Showtime in tandem of Steven Spielberg’s Amblin TV and 343 Industries, the Microsoft unit that oversees the vidgame franchise. That project remains in the works with Showtime, although it does not yet have a series order.

The abrupt shuttering of Xbox Studios amounts to a curveball for Tellem, who joined Microsoft in the fall of 2012 after a long run as one of the TV biz’s most prominent execs. She spent 15 years at CBS as a top lieutenant to Eye chief Leslie Moonves, and before that she worked alongside Moonves during heady days at Warner Bros. TV and Lorimar.

Hiring someone of Tellem’s stature was meant under the Ballmer regime to be a signal to Hollywood that Microsoft was serious about turning Xbox into an entertainment player. The timing seemed opportune, with streaming content taking centerstage via Netflix and other SVOD players and opening the entertainment industry’s eyes to storytelling opportunities outside of linear film and TV distributors.

Speaking last December at Variety‘s Dealmakers gathering, Tellem painted a picture of entertainment content working hand-in-hand with the parent company’s growth ambition for sales of Xbox consoles and subscription services. But that vision changed when Nadella was named CEO in February of this year.

“We’re in this amazing time where these two worlds are coming together,” Tellem said in December. “It’s only now that we’re getting comfortable with each other. Everyone recognizes how important content is in device adoption.”

Most recently, Tellem joined the board of e-commerce startup Dot & Bo, which was co-founded by former Yahoo and CBS Interactive exec Anthony Soohoo.

More Digital

  • Asian Streamer Iflix Completes $50 Million

    Asian Streamer Iflix Completes $50 Million Fund Raising

    Asia-based streaming firm Iflix has completed its latest funding round by bringing in major institutional investor Fidelity. The company says it is now looking towards an IPO. Iflix, which has operations across 12 countries in Asia, says that the funding cycle brought in “well in excess of $50 million,” but provided few new details. Other [...]

  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

    ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the always-on TV ad measurement and attribution company iSpot.tv, Columbia Pictures claims the top spot in spending with “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” Ads placed for the drama had an estimated media value of $5.71 million through Sunday for 997 national ad [...]

  • Department of Justice

    DOJ Announces Antitrust Review of Tech Giants

    In a move that could potentially disrupt Silicon Valley’s biggest companies, the U.S. Justice Department announced that its antitrust division opened a review into “whether and how market-leading online platforms have achieved market power.” The DOJ, in its announcement Tuesday, didn’t identify which companies it is looking into as part of the investigation. Facebook, Amazon, Google [...]

  • Snap Inc

    Snap Stock Skyrockets as Company Adds 13 Million Daily Active Users in Q2

    Share prices for Snapchat’s corporate parent Snap Inc. shot up as much as 13% in after-hours trading Tuesday on news that Snapchat added 13 million daily active users in Q2 of 2019. The service ended the quarter with 203 million users, compared to 190 million at the end of Q1, and 188 million in Q2 [...]

  • jbl link bar

    JBL Finally Releases Its Android TV-powered Smart Sound Bar

    Over a year after first announcing it, Samsung subsidiary Harman is finally releasing its JBL Link Bar, a smart sound bar that comes with Android TV built-in. The new device effectively doubles as a smart speaker, and does away with the need for any additional streaming devices. Google and Harman / JBL first announced the [...]

  • Inverse-BDG

    Bustle Digital Buys Digital-Media Startup Inverse, Its Eighth Acquisition to Date

    Bustle Digital Group, continuing its strategy of snapping up smaller digital-media players, has acquired Inverse, geared toward an young-male audience with content about science, tech and culture. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed. BDG founder and CEO Bryan Goldberg is well-acquainted with Inverse, which was founded in 2015 by CEO Dave Nemetz — who previously [...]

  • Pandora voice mode

    Pandora Launches Voice Mode for Everyone

    After first launching a limited beta earlier this year, Pandora opened up its mobile voice control to all of its iOS and Android users Tuesday. The new feature allows users to ask for songs, albums, playlists, stations, and even soundtracks for activities or times of day, with simple voice commands. Pandora’s voice mode is similar [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content