Microsoft, looking to fatten its living-room footprint, is working with Comcast and Verizon Communications to bring TV to the software giant's Xbox 360 broadband-connected game console, according to industry sources.
Within the next few weeks Comcast will make Xfinity On Demand content available to Xbox users, while FiOS TV will make its full video service available, the sources said. AT&T has offered U-verse TV customers an option to use Xboxes as set-tops since last fall.
Comcast and Microsoft declined to comment.
Asked about the Xbox project, Verizon referred to a blog post by director of media relations Bobbi Henson. "Because FiOS TV is such a powerful, interactive, cloud-based service, it is a natural match for devices like game consoles," she said in part, adding that "we've demonstrated our ability to blend FiOS with gaming systems at events like the Consumer Electronics Show."
In recent months cable, satellite and telco TV providers have been working overtime to bring television services to a broad range of Internet-connected devices, including TVs, tablets, mobile phones and PCs.
At CES in January 2011, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts demonstrated an Xfinity video app on a Samsung Internet-connected TV. Time Warner Cable similarly has initiatives to bring cable programming to Samsung and Sony "smart TVs" and currently offers live TV via an iPad app within customers' homes.
Microsoft -- which increasingly positions the Xbox as an all-purpose entertainment platform -- has said it will add the Bing search engine to Xbox. At a company event last month, CEO Steve Ballmer touted the Kinect motion-detection and voice-recognition controller for the game system as providing an ideal way to navigate TV listings.
Meanwhile, Microsoft is negotiating deals with more than two dozen content providers to augment the lineup on its Xbox Live service, including HBO, Sony Pictures Entertainment's Crackle, NBCUniversal's Bravo and Syfy, and Amazon.com's Lovefilm to the Xbox platform, Bloomberg reported.
Among other partners, Microsoft has agreements to offer content via Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube and Ultimate Fighting Championship. ESPN makes its ESPN3.com service available on Xbox to subscribers of participating Internet service providers.
Worldwide, more than 35 million people use Microsoft's Xbox Live service, according to Microsoft.
AT&T U-verse launched the Xbox-as-set-top option in October 2010, after more than three years of working with Microsoft to enable the service. The telco requires customers to buy a $99 Xbox kit, which includes a Microsoft remote control and Motorola HomePNA adapter, and charges a $55 installation fee.
It's unclear how much traction the telco has gotten with the feature. AT&T declined to say how many subscribers are using Xbox as a set-top.
"U-verse on Xbox 360 has been available to U-verse customers for nearly a year, and we've seen very positive feedback from customers on the convenience and functionality that the service enables," the company said in an e-mailed statement.
International operators that provide video through Xbox include the U.K.'s Sky TV, France's Canal+, Australia's Foxtel and Canada's Telus.
The developments have regulatory implications. Pay-TV providers argue that their efforts to deliver video to IP devices obviates the need for the Federal Communications Commission's proposed AllVid rules, which would force cable, telco and satellite TV operators to make programming available in a standard format to third-party devices.
AllVid is a classic example of "jobs-killing, cost-raising, innovation-crushing regulation," National Cable & Telecommunications Association president and CEO Michael Powell wrote in a blog post Wednesday, responding to comments by Consumer Electronics Association chief Gary Shapiro.
Such rules aren't needed, Powell said, because video providers and services are already "enabling consumers to watch video on multiple devices in and out of the home... without government mandates."