Gates heralds new ‘digital decade’
Microsoft chief’s keynote expected to be his last at gadgetfest
LAS VEGAS— Microsoft Corp. is moving ever further into consumers’ living rooms, rolling out new services it says will let users of some of its products link their televisions and computers more easily, customize how they watch news and sporting events and communicate with each other online in new ways. In what was expected to be his last keynote kickoff of the annual International Consumer Electronics Show here, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates last night he is planning to announce a flurry of new agreements that will help the world’s biggest software company deliver what he called the next “digital decade” for consumers. According to prepared remarks, Gates and other Microsoft executives were expected to disclose deals with Atlanta-based Turner Broadcasting System Inc., MGM Studios and TV makers Sony and Samsung. Gates and Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft’s entertainment and devices division planned to announce that Sony and Samsung will become the first TV makers to embed Microsoft’s Media Center Extender software directly into some of their television lines, so users can automatically link their television sets and PCs together wirelessly.
Through its arrangement with TBS, Microsoft is working on ways to let the relatively small sliver of U.S. consumers who get their television programming from telephone companies or over the Internet to customize how they watch events like NASCAR races or CNN newscasts.
TBS viewers who also use Microsoft’s Mediaroom Internet TV software will be able to pick and choose camera angles in NASCAR races and communicate with other watchers, for instance, or participate in interactive polls and get ondemand information on news events on CNN, according to Microsoft.
Microsoft Mediaroom is used by AT&T and other telephone companies to deliver digital television service over phone and data lines. Phone companies are betting they can lure customers away from cable and satellite TV providers by offering more interactivity through Internet-protocol TV software like Microsoft’s.
In an arrangement with another broadcasting company, NBC Universal, Microsoft’s MSN online portal will offer unique coverage of this year’s summer Olympics. MSN plans to offer more than 2,000 hours of live coverage over the Internet, in addition to 3,000 hours available on-demand, Microsoft executives said.
Gates and Bach also were expected to announce a deal with MGM Studios that will let Microsoft Xbox 360 owners use their game consoles to download movies and other content from the entertainment giant.
Like much of the rest of the hightech industry, Microsoft is focusing more on services and relationships than whiz-bang new gadgets at this year’s CES.
“We’re putting a huge emphasis this year on partnerships,” said Microsoft spokesman Tom Pilla.
Gates, the tech industry’s bestknown leader, forecasted a world in the next decade where big-screen displays will be even bigger, filling up entire walls and becoming ubiquitous in consumers’ lives.
He also predicted computing and the Internet will continue to become more mobile, with portable Internet devices becoming as integral to consumers as computers and home TV sets.
Gates plans to step down this summer from the daily operations of the company he co-founded in order to focus on his philanthropic efforts.
Last night’s keynote speech was his 12th in 15 years at the Las Vegas consumer electronics show.