Today at the D: Dive Into Media conference, representatives from Microsoft provided more details on its new video production studio, which will provide a whole new level of interactivity for viewers. Nancy Tellem, Corporate VP of Microsoft’s L.A. Studios, said that the company has already hired 150 employees in its Santa Monica studio in L.A. That’s a huge commitment to creating a whole new type of content for its Xbox game console.
Tellem joined Microsoft last year to head up its new content efforts. In addition to the usual broadcast-like TV content, Tellem said that the company will be investing heavily in interactive content, as it can leverage products like Xbox Kinect to allow users to provide new ways for viewers to play with stuff on the screen. “We’re in a unique position to produce content with a much higher level of interactivity,” Tellem said.
Yusuf Mehdi, SVP of Interactive Entertainment at Microsoft, said the company has sold well over 75 million consoles worldwide, and Xbox Live has more than 46 million subscribers. Users spend an average of 87 hours on the Xbox per month, with the majority of that being non-game content. While the user base is still primarily male, Mehdi said 38 percent of its users are women, and 51 percent are people with kids.
Tellem sees that type of content being particularly attractive to younger viewers using the console. “Everyone is very different, particularly when you look at the younger demo,” Tellem said. “Interactivity is a natural extension of what they do.” While the company plans to make its content available through its Xbox Live service, it will also look to monetize that content through ads.
One thing that Microsoft is not interested in doing is becoming a cable competitor by building bundles of content. Part of that is about being friendly to content companies and distributors that deliver video over its devices. Part of it is also not feeling like it can provide real value by being a virtual cable provider.
The news comes as rumors have swirled around the next-generation Xbox, which is expected to be called the Xbox 720. Those include the belief that the new Xbox will have always-on DRM, which will destroy the used-game market. Also, the revelation that the next-gen game console will require Xbox Kinect to work. But Mehdi wouldn’t comment on the company’s plans for the next-gen box.
Skype just announced that it will now begin to show some of its users ads during 1:1 audio calls. These so-called “conversation ads” will only appear for users who don’t have Skype credit or a subscription and, for the time being, these ads will only appear on Skype for Windows, though chances are the company, which is now owned by Microsoft, will also bring these ads to its OS X client in the future. The company stresses that these ads will “be silent, non-expanding and run after we’ve completed our regular detailed quality checks on your connection.”
Marketers will be able to purchase these ads in 55 markets where Skype is available. Ads will be targeted based on “non-personally identifiable” demographic information like location, gender and age. Users will have the option to opt out of Skype using their demographic information.
Skype is obviously quite excited about this launch, though it remains to be seen how users will react. The announcement today argues that Skype is a place where users can “have meaningful conversations about brands in a highly engaging environment.” That’s obviously the stuff marketers dream of, but in reality, users probably won’t think of these ads as generating “fun interactivity between your circle of friends and family and the brands you care about” (hence the name, “conversation ads,” I guess).
This is Skype’s second major push into advertising after launching ads on its Home tab last year.
Stilla is an iPhone/iPad app by Maybe It’s The Lighting that feels like an entirely new way to capture moments — going far beyond the traditional photo. With Stilla you take not one, but 2 or 3 pictures that intersect in an overlaid 3D space, and the result is something magical, thanks to the gyroscopic camera.
We first covered Stilla back in December, and now the team is back with Stilla 1.5 and the ability to embed 3D WebGL images. To be honest, I haven’t been this excited about a photography app since I started using Instagram.
H: How has Stilla evolved since it was first released?
P: Stilla was released in late December 2011. This is the first update and it’s focused on sharing interactive Stillas with everyone by simply using a browser.
H: How does Stilla’s WebGL sharing work?
P: First, you actively choose to share a Stilla. None of your photos are uploaded automatically behind your back. If you do so, your Stilla will be uploaded to a server and will become accessible through a short link.
This link can then be shared through Twitter, Facebook or E-Mail, much like other photo apps do. Unlike most other photo apps, your uploaded Stillas will be treated as private by default. They won’t be shown as part of a public feed for example.
H: What does Stilla offer that other apps can’t?
P: Stilla hits a sweet spot between a photograph and a movie. A single photo is an abstract thing. It’s taken out of context, time has been frozen, things seem much more powerful or catchy as they actually have been. Reality looks different on a photo. You can observe that easily when taking a movie of the same moment: The same scene will seem much more complex and fragile.
It’s a lot harder to stage something in a movie (without music) than on a photo. But watching a movie is more passive than holding a simple photograph in your hand. Watching a single photo involves your own imagination much more. You may be drifting off while remembering a scene, imagining something else or simply take as much time as you like. Stilla keeps this strength of photography but offers additional facets, views to a single moment.
The interaction while viewing a Stilla is key. Today, we’re looking at photos mostly on screens. There, they look basically the same like old printed photos except that they’re missing the interactivity or say the haptic quality of a printed photo. Most of these screens could offer interactivity, be it through touch or through a mouse. But this stays unused, interactivity is for navigating, selecting, organizing – none of those has an emotional quality of any kind. Instead of taking the interactive medium seriously, most Apps resort to polaroid frames and film filters.
Stilla offers a fresh perspective on what it means “to hold something in your hand,” or “to touch a moment” without imitating old media or just simulating a photo to be rotated in space. Stilla creates a magical quality, it actively supports the gaps between the single facets with a beautiful, special blending based on how light is distributed in the photos. And light is what photography was always about. Stilla invites you to rediscover this in a whole new context.
Stilla offers a quick, versatile and creative way to capture a moment in 3D. A Stilla can be made out of only 2 pictures or as many as you like. You can choose to capture spatial details – coherent or not – or create something like a zoetrope to build a story. Take a picture of a friend and add a second one of something that reminds you of the place you were. In a group of people, hand your iPhone around and everybody adds a facet looking from their viewpoint. Combine abstract shots of light and color. There are so many ways to play with this camera while the basic concept is easy to understand. It’s not a clever technical black-box, it’s hands-on.
Stilla is an App designed to keep your own moments with you. It’s a modern interpretation of the photos in your wallet. Everything has been developed and designed with a lot of attention to detail for a specific reason. Everything revolves quite literally around your pictures. Your photos, your world, your friends are always in the center of the app and there are ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼almost no graphical UI elements. Moving around the App feels light, snappy and focused without losing that magical quality.
When did you look at a photo for longer than 5 seconds the last time? Stilla is designed to enjoy your pictures. For those special moments you want to remember.
Of course, WebGL is a developing technology and only functions in the latest of browsers. In other words, you’ll need to keep an open mind. What’s special about this, though, is that the team is actually trying to break the mold.
The world doesn’t need another group photo sharing app. Exploring new ways to capture a moment and playing with the space between photos and video, on the other hand, feels much more compelling.
➤ Stilla, via the App Store for $1.99