In what could be his final keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) Chairman Bill Gates Monday night will announce that the company’s MSN service has signed a deal with the Olympics and NBC to run NBCOlympics.com, the official U.S. site for coverage of this year’s Summer Games in Beijing. The site will provide more than 3,000 hours of live streaming video coverage of Olympic events, with up to 20 simultaneous live streams. The site will officially open for business on August 8, with live coverage of the opening ceremonies.
The video streams on the site will use Microsoft’s Silverlight technology, which will require viewers to accept a small software download. In a pre-briefing on the keynote, a Microsoft spokesman said this will be the largest deployment of Siliverlight to date by far.
In other news expected in Monday night's keynote, Gates will announce that the company has sold 100 million licenses to date for Windows Vista; he is also expected to say the software is on track, and that the company is pleased with the uptake of the oft-criticized operating system software. Gates will also highlight some new Vista-based PCs, including the Lamborghini VX3, a laptop in a leather case with stitching that resembles a car, and also showcase some new features of the company’s Live online services, and some new Windows Mobile phones.
Gates planned to focus his talk on three primary themes:
- Partnerships with media, content and technology companies.
- The social and personal nature of technology.
- Software is changing the way people interact with technology. He is excited about natural user interfaces – touch, speech and gestures.
In his 11th keynote in 15 years - and possibly his last, given his plans to shift more time to his foundation starting in June - Gates planned to discuss several key themes he expects to play out in the months and year ahead. One, he expects to see HD displays everywhere. Two, he expects to see a rise in mobile intelligence - smart phones, and phones with GPS, will be everywhere. And three, he continues to be excited about interacting with technology with touch and speech rather than keyboards and mice.
Robby Bach, who runs Microsoft’s entertainment business, was expected to appear on stage to talk about the company’s Xbox 360 business, which according to NPD data did $3.5 billion in hardware and software sales at retail in 2007, $1 billion more than the Nintendo Wii, and $2 billion more than the Playstation 3. To date, 17.7 million Xbox 360 consoles have been sold. The company has sold 8.1 million units of Halo 3 since its launch in September. Bach is also expected to note that there are now 7 Xbox 360 titles that sold at least 1 million units, including Mass Effect, which has sold 1.6 million units in 6 weeks. The others include Call of Duty 4, Madden ‘08, BioShock and Assassin’s Creed.
Bach is expected to say that there are now 8 million active members of Xbox Live, with 10 million expected by June. The service now has more high-def content available to download than anyone else, he will say.
Microsoft is expected to unveil new partnerships with MGM, ABC Television and the Disney Channel to provide content to the service. ABC Television and Disney (NYSE:DIS) will offer more than 500 hours of content, in standard and high def, available at the end of the month. Programs will include Desperate Housewives, Lost, Grey’s Anatomy and Hannah Montana. MGM will provide at least 50 high def titles, including things like the Rocky and Terminator movies.
On another subject, the company will say that there are now more than 1 million set-top boxes worldwide running Microsoft’s Media Room IPTV software. Monday night, the company will announce the addition of a new feature known as “whole home DVR,” which allows you to watch programs recorded on your DVR on any TV in your house.
The company will also announce some new content partnerships now in development to utilize some of the power of the IPTV platform.
- A new deal with Nascar and TNT will give people the ability to watch races from the helmet cams of their favorite drivers, and to listen to the audio feeds from their cars, toggling the view as desired.
- With Showtime, they are developing a service that will let IPTV viewers choose their camera angles on boxing matches, and choose among various audio feeds, including traditional commentators, referees or even trainers in the boxers’ corners.
- With CNN, they are working on new ways to do election coverage with IPTV, including interactive features like real-time polls.
Gates will also show show new features of Microsoft’s Surface table-top touch screen technology; in one demo he is going to show how you can use the technology to pick out a snowboard, using the technology, choosing a board, its color and shape, and ordering it right on the table.
In another bit of news, the company will announce some new extenders for Media Center, including extenders built into TVs from several vendors. Samsung will be among the companies displaying new extenders.
On the Zune, the company will announce plans to expand distribution into Canada in the spring. Microsoft will also say that the company has seen strong uptake for its Zune Social service for sharing song preferences and playlists; in less than 2 months since launch, there are 1.5 million members, and the site has had 60 million page view. The company sold 1.2 million Zunes last year, and expects to grow the total this year.
Bach Monday night will show off some new integration of voice recognition software from its TellMe Networks acquisition into Windows Mobile, including a demo in which he searches for movie titles over the phone, which uses GPS technology to check his location before providing an answer.
Towards the end of the keynote, Gates is expected to show a demo of futuristic prototype wireless device, combining the features of a phone, an ultra-mobile PC and a GPS device, using voice and touch interfaces. He’ll use it to bring up clips from his previous keynotes.