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Microsoft and NBC Universal partner on Olympics

LAS VEGAS (Hollywood Reporter) - NBC Universal is partnering with Microsoft to expand its online offerings for the 2008 Olympics.

Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft, delivers a keynote address for the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada January 6, 2008. NBC Universal is partnering with Microsoft to expand its online offerings for the 2008 Olympics. REUTERS/Steve Marcus

The studio was just one of the many partners Microsoft founder Bill Gates disclosed in his keynote speech Sunday evening to open the Consumer Electronics Show. In addition, MGM was introduced as the latest studio lined up to contribute movies to Xbox Live Marketplace. Disney, which already has a movie deal in place, now will provide TV programming to Xbox from ABC, Disney Channel, Toon Disney and ABC Family.

Among other companies teaming up with the PC giant in other arenas are CNN, Showtime and Samsung, enabling Microsoft to deliver new ways of experiencing TV programming.

But it was NBCOlympics.com (NBCOlympics.com) on MSN that led the laundry list of media-minded innovations Gates introduced in his hour-plus address. Microsoft will lend the power of its Silverlight online video technology as well as the massive reach of its MSN Network to NBC Universal's usual array of TV coverage to this summer's event in Beijing.

Gates envisions the NBC Universal-MSN partnership, which is restricted to the United States, illustrating how broadband interactivity provides a better experience than traditional broadcast. “We’ll let you customize so you can see what you’re interested in,” Gates said. “This type of live-event programming is something that MSN has gotten good at with events like Live Earth.”

The partnership will deepen the Olympics’ Internet footprint, making more than 3,000 hours of live and on-demand content available via NBCOlympics.com as well as MSN.com and other Microsoft-owned online hubs. NBC Universal and Microsoft will share online advertising revenue. The exact split was not disclosed.

While the breadth of past Olympics coverage has been funneled into a limited array of TV channels and online windows, NBCOlympics.com will offer as many as 30 simultaneous live feeds, interactive components that deliver on-demand statistics pertaining to each sport, as well as new features including live video alerts and social networking.

In all, NBC Universal projects broadcasting a record 3,600 hours of coverage from August 8-24.

“By teaming up with MSN and Microsoft, we can give both the core fan and casual consumer of the Olympic Games an amazing online experience, combining high-quality video with the storytelling and analysis that we’re known for,” said Gary Zenkel, president of NBC Olympics.

Joining Gates onstage was Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft’s entertainment and devices division. He unveiled new partnerships Microsoft has struck with HP and Samsung that will enable its Windows Media Center to wirelessly port video programming to “extender” devices that can be attached to sets from those TV manufacturers.

“Building great connected TV experiences is not a hobby for Microsoft,” Bach said.

But Media Center, available in Windows XP and Vista, will be restricted to media partners that feed video to that application. They include Fox Sports, MSNBC and movie-studio trailers.

New content partnerships with TNT, CNN and Showtime were disclosed for Microsoft Mediaroom, an IPTV technology employed by some distributors around the world including AT&T’s U-Verse in the U.S. and Infostrada TV in Italy.

Through Mediaroom, viewers will be able to select their own camera angles for broadcasts of NASCAR on TNT and boxing on Showtime. CNN’s use of Mediaroom will enable instant polling.

Bach also talked up Microsoft’s challenge to iPod in the portable music category, Zune. He noted quick growth for a social networking component added to Zune, which has added 1.5 million profile pages in the last six weeks. He also disclosed Zune would make its international debut in Canada in the spring.

Gates confirmed he was making his last CES address as Microsoft management, signaling his intention to transition into philanthropic concerns outside the company. Gates has been addressing CES crowds since 1983.

To make light of his exit, Microsoft showed a video during the presentation dramatizing Gates’ last day, in which he is seen exploring new outlets with various A-list celebrities. Gates is seen rapping with Jay-Z, auditioning for a movie role with Steven Spielberg and George Clooney, and exercising with Matthew McConaughey.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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