Going Beyond The Enthusiast Market

Charlie Owen, a former Media Center team member wrote a post this week about Media Center expanding its marketplace, specifically going from the current enthusiast market to a more mainstream market.  Charlie analysis comes to the pretty simple answer of It’s possible, but highly unlikely at this point.”

I had previously come to this conclusion, but to me the real question is “will Microsoft attempt to develop for the enthusiast market?”  Lucky for me, Charlie replied to my comment with exactly what I was expecting

Charlie: “No. That’s because they have never done so. The enthusiast market is always a subset of the overall market any product targets. Put another way: Where the goal is making a profit you wouldn’t sacrifice a broad market opportunity of 100 for the narrow enthusiast market of 10. Making a Microsoft-sized profit is different than making a profit if you were a much smaller company.”

In other words the future for Media Center is one or two options.  Option 1: Microsoft stops development of Media Center (very unlikely).  Option 2: Microsoft transitions Media Center to a market which has the possibility to create a “Microsoft-sized profit.” (Hint: TV on your PC)  Re-quoting myself from early this year, the days of Media Center being billed as the do-it-all center of your home are over.

My opinion continues to be that Microsoft will focus more and more on the Xbox 360 as the center of the home.  The benefits of the Xbox 360 over Media Center are almost endless from a business perspective.  The massive amount of end users (an unquestionable 30 million, with 20 million of them being Xbox Live subscribers) means content providers are going to flock to the platform.  Microsoft can sit back and rake in yearly recurring revenue from these 20 million Xbox Live subscribers along with the massive amounts of licensing accessories and the Xbox 360 brand.  Media Center on the other hard makes Microsoft absolutely no money as it is a part of the standard Windows SKU (eg. No one except members of The Green Button ever purchased a Windows license just to get Media Center).

There are still people holding out hope for Media Center to become a platform for the home.  The recent announcement that Dish Network will not be shipping their tuner anytime soon didn’t surprise me one bit.  Why would Dish bother to continue with Media Center when it is pretty clear Microsoft is moving away from the consumer they thought they were buying into?  This same concept is at play with Media Center Extender’s.  There is still some hope that Toshiba will be releasing an Extender, but I think the concept that most people miss is that whether it gets released or not means little in the grand scheme of things.  If Microsoft’s heart is not in providing a platform for the home, you can really know going into your purchase that you’re going to end up disappointed at some point.

The biggest question mark might be Windows Home Server.  For years I have said the concept of including Media Center in Windows Home Server is pointless and does nothing to expand the current market.  If HP ditched Extender’s and CableCARD due to poor sales, why exactly would they have the least bit of interest in shipping a Media Center+Home Server box?  If OEMs are not interested, why is Microsoft going to develop it?

Most people underestimate the OEMs when talking about Media Center.  OEMs are really responsible for Media Center from start to finish from a customer’s perspective.  HP and Dell have shown they have little interest in Media Center by either discounting CableCARD PCs, killing off Extender’s, and even in HPs case killing off their HT-styled z-series Media Centers.  Dish Network and DIRECTV are just as important and have shown that they are increasing less interested.

Microsoft’s latest attempt to make a market for Media Center has been the custom integrator channel, and some have big expectations for what Microsoft might have in store.  Sadly most of the possibilities have already been proven false, and based on what I’ve been told from those in the industry interest in Media Center in the custom channel is dropping fast.  I’m interest to see how much longer Microsoft attempts to push into the market.  With their partner OEMs such as HP, Linksys, Dish Network pulling out these leaves the custom OEMs like Niveus Media and Life|ware to pick up the slack.  Unfortunately there is only such much they can do.  If Microsoft’s commitment in the channel falls it might be the end of the custom market experiment.

So once again the question is what’s next.  Recently there have been some great new bloggers show up in the Media Center community with some great suggestions.  I’m done with suggestions.  Microsoft knows exactly what we want, let’s not pretend they don’t.  The issue is it is no longer in their best interest to pursue most of it.  What’s next?  Who knows.  All I want at this point is for Microsoft to publicly provide a roadmap for what Media Center is to become.

What Do You Think of Windows 7 Media Center?

This weekend I installed Windows 7 on my Media Center and thought about writing a review.  However, I think Ben successfully did that already so rather than try and recreate it I’d rather know what you think.

Looking through Ben’s list of new features and changes, the one thing I noticed was that the vast majority of them are visual changes to the UI or straight up eye candy.  Sure, they add additional functionality but channel logos, TV show images, colored coded EPG, and fancy fading in/out only goes so far when there are dozens of useful features still needed to make Media Center the center of the home.

Features like HomeGroup are great, but once again it doesn’t work with protected CableCARD content and some people aren’t too happy with that.  Several of the other cool features existing in the TV Pack, so if you managed to get it stable enough to use you will see less “new” features in Windows 7 than those who have been using Vista w/o TV Pack.  Overall I’m happy with Windows 7 for my personal use; however it fails to make further inroads into any market except the existing enthusiast market.

What’s your opinion?  What do you like and dislike?  What features are missing?