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November 7, 2012
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Windows 8: Microsoft’s hedged bet on a video future

Microsoft’s latest operating system, Windows 8, allows the software giant to serve its PC base and hook into the second-screen ecosystem. Its relevance to the first screen may be linked to the Xbox.

Featuring both a traditional desktop interface optimized for mouse and keyboard and a tile-based design geared for touch-screen control, Windows 8 is destined for two markets: the PC world, which Microsoft rules with a 93% global market share; and the rising world of non-PC display devices, where its market penetration is in the low single digits. Apple dominates that non-PC category, but there is no shortage of Windows-friendly contenders among tablets and hybrids.

Eager to extend their reach to those devices, content providers such as FX Networks, ABC News, NBC News, France 24, Monte-Carlo Doualiya and RFI have announced Windows 8 second-screen apps. Catch-up TV aggregator Hulu and on-demand streaming giant Netflix have joined the Windows 8 party, as has Sky Television in New Zealand, which released a Windows 8 app that offers program-guide and remote-recording functionality, similar to apps that it released for Android OS and Apple iOS.

Could that news from New Zealand be a harbinger? Is Windows 8 going to have much of an impact on the TV? “The answer is in the short term, not so much; but in the longer term, yes, absolutely,” said Bill Scott, Chief Operating and Commercial Officer for EaselTV, a connected TV design and application development company.

Too-soon-to-tell is another response. “We are watching reactions and market acceptance,” said Jim Elayan, VP Marketing and Business Development for itaas, a TV software development house. “I like the platform and think it is great for Microsoft, but so far our focus is still on HTML5 and the iOS/Android duopoly.”

Noting that the Xbox, Microsoft’s main TV play, already has a Windows 8 “Metro” or tile-like user experience, EaselTV’s Scott suggested a possible roadmap. “We can imagine that Windows 8 Surface tablets or even Windows 8 mobiles will get plugged into TVs to some degree, and maybe Microsoft will produce some sort of Windows 8 Media Centre equivalent, perhaps with an Apple TV-like extender.”

But manufacturers are not the only driver. Pay TV Operators also help set the agenda, choosing from among a range of options. In the UK, Microsoft (Xbox), TiVo, Samsung and LG are already in play. “Perhaps Sky’s investment in Roku means we will have Roku in volume before too long,” Scott said. “Google TV will increasingly become important, along with Microsoft.”

Scott predicted that current fragmentation among TV platforms would settle into four main groups: Apple, Android/Google TV, Microsoft and standards-based HTML.  He also said Microsoft should be able to leverage Xbox development going forward.

“We expect to be able to port Xbox apps to Windows 8 without too much rewriting of code,” Scott said. “With consistency of development language, policy, process, metadata, software components and user experience convention, an Xbox app will be a significant head-start on Windows 8 development, whatever the device.”