Microsoft has expanded the video smorgasbord for Xbox 360 owners, planning to provide full access to ESPN's "TV Everywhere" content and inking distribution deals with partners including Univision Communications, Viacom, the NBA and the NHL.
Microsoft announced the new content and expanded partnerships Monday ahead of the E3 conference in Los Angeles.
ESPN later this year will add live programming through WatchESPN, including Monday Night Football and SportsCenter, as well as coverage of MLB and NBA games, through the Xbox to subscribers of participating affiliates.
WatchESPN, available to approximately 40 million households nationwide, provides live access to an assortment of programming from ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN3 and ESPN Buzzer Beater/Goal Line. The service is available via PCs, smartphones and tablets.
Univision said it will launch UVideos, a new Hispanic digital network, on Xbox 360 Live Gold in the fourth quarter of 2012. The UVideos application will let users find and watch programming from Univision's portfolio of TV networks, and authenticated users will have expanded access to thousands of hours of content across multiple genres, from telenovelas to music, and sports to movies.
Microsoft also announced a deal with the NBA to let users who subscribe to NBA.com League Pass Broadband access "hundreds" of out-of-market live games via the Xbox (with blackout restrictions that apply in the U.S. and some international markets), plus highlights from around the league and updated player stats.
On the hockey front, NHL will provide GameCenter Live customers access to live out-of-market games (blackout restrictions apply) plus more in-game interactivity, replays and highlights on demand. The service is available worldwide except in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden.
Other content providers on tap to be added to Xbox in the next 12 months include Viacom's Nickelodeon, Comedy Central stand-up and Paramount Pictures movies; The Weather Channel; Rhapsody; and Slacker Radio.
Microsoft has embarked on a strategy to make Xbox an entertainment center, with partners that include Comcast Xfinity, HBO Go, Verizon FiOS, Epix and YouTube.
In addition, Microsoft debuted Xbox SmartGlass, a free application for Windows Phones and Windows 8 devices that provides companion content and control for Xbox consoles.
Microsoft also announced version four of its iconic Halo game franchise and a game based on Matt Parker and Trey Stone's South Park series, among other titles.
"Xbox is on a mission to make the entertainment that you love even more amazing," Don Mattrick, president of Microsoft's Interactive Entertainment Business, said in a statement. "With Xbox SmartGlass, we are lighting up entertainment across your phone, tablet, PC and TV in a completely new way. If you love to play games, watch TV and movies, surf the Web, or listen to music, there has never been a better time to be on Xbox."
Also at E3, Microsoft introduced a new music service, Xbox Music, to be launched this fall, that will provide up to 30 million songs playable on Xbox 360, Windows Phone and Windows 8-based devices. The service will bring "the best of popular existing services to one place, letting the customer purchase music or subscribe to music on the console -- and also on any cloud-connected device," Microsoft said.
The software giant introduced Internet Explorer for Xbox, which will allow customers to surf the Internet using their voice or navigate using mobile devices. IE on Xbox requires a subscription to Xbox Live Gold, which costs $60 per year. Also, Xbox is expanding Bing voice search powered by Kinect to an additional 12 countries and six languages (for a total of 15 countries and seven languages).
Since launching Xbox 360 in 2005, Microsoft has sold 67 million consoles and currently has 40 million Xbox Live customers worldwide. The company has also sold 19 million Kinects, the voice- and gesture-recognition controllers for the console.
According to Microsoft, Xbox Live provides more than 200,000 pieces of content including movies, TV shows and music.