Rumor: Microsoft Following Apple Again, This Time Into Online TV

Microsoft TVMicrosoft often tramps along the same footpath that Apple's followed, creaming some money from the top (or bottom) of the market with a minimum of effort. A new rumor suggests Microsoft is trying again--this time with online subscription TV.

Okay, so Apple's not the only player in this market--and Google TV is a bold move into a game where Boxee and others are already playing. But the comparison to Apple is inevitable, given the whole Macs versus PCs debate, Microsoft's amusing choice about placing its swanky high-street stores near Apple ones...and the fact that it's having to engage in lengthy debates with TV content providers in order to get shows for its plans.

That's the meat of the rumor hitting the news right now, because we know nothing about the technical aspects of the plan other than it's to provide TV content through the Xbox game console. There's a suggestion MS will also provide website access to the shows, acting as a "virtual cable" channel, but there's no clue if it's going to ape Apple more closely still and launch its own set-top box for non-Xbox owners. We do know some individual channels may be sold directly to consumers, copying the way ESPN is sold through Xbox live, and the Xbox system may also let MS supply enhanced interactive shows to consumers, with pop-over information or perhaps even games, as a way to differentiate itself from the other Internet TV options.

The sources who've spoken to Reuters suggest it may not arrive as a real product for around a year, which is interesting all by itself: It gives Netflix time to further refine its pricing model, Apple time to turn the Apple TV into an app-driven Internet TV giant, and other players like Boxee to sign deals to get more exclusive content. The time delay is almost certainly due to the same sort of issues that've plagued Apple, and heavily damaged Google TV's chances--tight-gripped content owners who are worried about losing control of prized aspects of their business as the entertainment game slowly shuffles from the broadcast era into the Internet era.

One thing's for sure--if MS TV does come to the Xbox, it's going to be fun controlling it using gestures and Kinect.

To read more news on this, and similar stuff, keep up with my updates by following me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter.

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