Mediaroom: Microsoft's 'operator friendly brand'
What's in a name?
Comment A briefing last week from Microsoft's Christine Heckart, the general manager of marketing for Microsoft's freshly named Mediaroom TV business, attempted to straighten out one or two misconceptions about the new name, and additional features added recently to the software.
Heckart continues to push the party line of the term "ingredient brand" explaining that Microsoft TV IPTV Edition, was not only too long to use for consumer branding, but it made no sense leaving "Microsoft" as the key word, given that Microsoft is known for different things.
But after all the explanations - that it was too much of a mouthful, that it came out of operator requests to cobrand with Microsoft, and that it had to be a subservient brand or consumers would call Microsoft for support instead of its IPTV operator customers - we still think there's another key reason behind the name change.
As Microsoft's strategy goes forward in media, it will inevitably touch all of the potential offerings that its rivals are chasing. Those rivals include Google as much as Sony, as much as Nokia Siemens, as much as Nokia's handset division, so the offerings that Microsoft MUST end up being associated with are portals, VoIP software, mobile VoIP software, movie and games services over Xbox Live, and MSN, as well as portable media players and eventually portable gaming devices.
These can (almost) all be offered in one of two ways, direct to a consumer, or through one or other kind of operator. Since Microsoft has the majority of its TV business through traditional incumbent telcos (although it has some Latin America business in cable, and a minor trial in the US with Comcast), when any of these businesses are to be offered by a telco, the product name will include Mediaroom. When Microsoft sells something direct to consumers, the product name will be one of Microsoft's own product names.
This ruse allows the different divisions of Microsoft to pursue both operator sales and "over the top" sales, with some clarity about which is which.
Heckart wouldn't say it like that and might not even agree specifically, preferring to say things like it being an aspirational brand, and it "being our proposition to service providers", instead. There is no charge to use the brand "Mediaroom" or "Microsoft Mediaroom" or "Powered by Microsoft Mediaroom". Heckart insists that it just "helps them to be more successful in this space", and then went on to give us an update on where the Mediaroom effort is today.
"The Mediaroom name suggests something that offers media, music and movies, giving access to your own media room, where you can get access on any device, wherever you are," but Heckart refuses to go into detail of just when this kind of capability will emerge, though hinting that the plan would begin to unroll significantly later this year.
But it does raise a number of interesting questions. Does Microsoft mean on any device or does it mean on any Microsoft device? Certainly the arrival of a placeshifting and a mobile TV strategy are overdue for Microsoft, both for its partner operators, and for sale directly to consumers.
Heckart is clear that one of the major attractions is the use of an Xbox as part of the Mediaroom strategy. "We have 23 customers for Mediaroom, with 18 of these announced and 10 offering services which are commercially available. I would say that about half of our customers are interested in looking more closely at the use of Xbox within their strategy," she said, carefully avoiding whether or not AT&T was one of those 10 or so operators.
Our thoughts have always been that the involvement of the Xbox as a part of Mediaroom strategy is likely to have only come about in the US, where the Microsoft brand, and the Xbox brand is strong, so we have always thought AT&T must be one of those mandating Mediaroom to have an Xbox element.
There are also tools so that portal data held by an operator can be delivered over the private TV network (not the internet) to a TV screen, so that applications that are available on a web site might be made available, through the same code base, to TV viewers.
"There are 70 tool kits delivered so far", said Heckart, "It's a controlled release and each of our customers has between one and 5 developer partners that they work closely with which are helping them to build new interactive services, so it's mostly to this type of organization, not to systems integrators that we have shipped the tool kits," said Heckart, and she gave the examples of Yahoo, working with AT&T in the US and Emuse with BT in the UK as the type of development partner. The toolkit allows development on a PC, and offers a Mediaroom simulator, and access to a developer website.
Comment: Overall, we do not buy the idea that operators would really want to use the Microsoft brand in any way shape or form when they offer new services. Right now the news of Microsoft delay problems with IPTV is so widely spread in the media that many consumers are already aware of it, and telling consumers that their TV experience is driven by Microsoft is not reassuring.
If it was true, Microsoft would not need to go and build a new brand from scratch. Instead, we continue to see Microsoft needing to develop both operator friendly and operator unfriendly services and the word Mediaroom, when added to the front of anything Microsoft has (including Xbox) is simply a way of saying that it is an operator delivered service. When the number of Microsoft offerings gets more complicated in this sector, and it will, the distinction may come to have real meaning.
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