Microsoft’s hype-heavy Xbox One reveal answered all sorts of questions about where Microsoft sees entertainment going, but coming from an Australian perspective, I have a single question. Where’s my pizza?
Before I kick off, a quick but-oh-so-obvious gag: Hey, Xbox One — were you born in a tent?*
Heh. I slay myself.
In any case, if you’ve been online this morning, be it on social media or the web, you can’t have missed the hype circus that surrounded the Xbox One launch. Microsoft wants that hype, but it also rather crucially wants the Xbox One to be much more than just a games machine. It’s never been shy about that aspiration, but the One’s pitch is far more strongly pitched in that direction than its previous generations, right down to the physical design.
Everyone who saw the unveiling of the Xbox One said the same thing. “Hey”, they said “That looks just like a set top box”. Or words to that extent; some of my hidden microphones gave out at that point, but the echo was remarkable in any case. As an aside, at least the design has evolved. The original Xbox remains the single ugliest console that I — or anyone else — has ever owned. There are some great games for that machine, but it’s astonishingly ugly. Anything that can make the western version of the NES look good did something spectacular… but not good.
Getting back to the Xbox One, even those who had early access made the set top box point, with Wired’s Peter Rubin making the specific note that it looks like a TiVO. That was my thought too, and as I watched the Xbox One reveal, I kept thinking back to the TiVO comparison, but not always in the most flattering terms. After all, TiVO launched in Australia amidst a wave of hype that suggested it was going to change the way we watched TV too.
Why, in the shadow of the entertainment colossus that Microsoft assures me the Xbox One will be would I think that way? Mostly because I’ve watched the rise and fall of TiVO locally, and the hype that surrounded that. Microsoft showed off lots of entertainment content in its launch that’s terribly US-centric, and it’s a fair bet we won’t see quite as much of that content here in Australia, if at all. Microsoft has huge plans for the Xbox One, but the local picture is unclear, and the US centric nature of the purportedly “global” launch didn’t help that much.
Back in 2008, TiVO Australia — well, Hybrid TV, its parent company if you want specifics — held a launch in Sydney to talk up its plans for the TiVO service in Australia. I’ve still got the cushion they gave away somewhere.
The hype was breathless. I wrote it up for APC, noting that we were going to get radio… which we did, although I’m not sure who cared. We were going to get more storage, which again did actually happen, although future TiVO hardware upgrades that appeared in the US never made it here. But the thing that stuck in my brain that day wasn’t storage or radio; it was the promise of being able to order Pizza through the TiVO set top box. On the surface, it was a ridiculous idea. We’ve got an obesity issue in Australia with too many people sitting in front of TV rather than walking around, and now you want to deliver greasy fat to couch potatoes?
At the same time, from a marketing viewpoint, I could totally see how that was going to work because TV convenience is a quite powerful compelling force. You’ve got some friends around to watch a movie, so why not simply order up some pizza?
Except — and you’ve probably guessed this by now, what with the lounge rooms of Australia not actually being littered with the heart-attack ridden corpses of the TV faithful — the pizzas never arrived in 2009. Or 2010, or 2011. Frankly, I’m starting to think that they’re going to be just a touch rancid by now. It’s easy to talk things up, and I don’t have specific insight into why the pizza deal collapsed, but delivery within the unique Australian market is difficult, and one that’s not always fully realised.
The games side of the Xbox One will probably deliver — issues with second hand games and backwards compatibility notwithstanding — but the Australian entertainment experience is an entirely different kind of pizza to that in the US.
There’s a dominant Pay-TV player in Foxtel with lots of locked-down exclusive content, and while Foxtel does have existing Xbox agreements in place, it seems unlikely they’ll offer up full and exclusive IPTV services just for Xbox One users. The promised global search for TV content will almost certainly hit strong geoblocks in the Australian context, and within the controlled environment of the Xbox One, it’s unlikely you’ll find a VPN or other passthrough application any time soon. You almost certainly won’t find Live TV in Australia at launch in any case if early reports are anything to go by.
Or, in other words, while I’m excited by the potential of Xbox One, I’m seriously concerned that once again, my pizza is going to go cold.
*I’m so often reminded that I do “dad” jokes, that I figure I’m entitled.
Pizza Image: Chris Waits