Hollywood producer set to make shows for Xbox

Veteran producer Peter Safran says he plans first to focus on genres, like comedy and horror, that appeal to owners of the Microsoft console. (From The New York Times)
Written by Natalie Gagliordi, Contributor
Microsoft, seeking to expand offerings on its Xbox 360 console, has reached an agreement with a company headed by Peter Safran, the veteran Hollywood producer and talent manager, to produce original shows for distribution on the system.

Through his Safran Company, Safran represents clients like the actor and producer Sean Combs (Monster's Ball); the actor and writer Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding); and filmmakers Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer (Epic Movie). Safran founded the company in 2006 after leaving Brillstein-Grey Management.

Speaking by telephone last week, Scott Nocas, global marketing manager for programming of the Xbox Live entertainment service, said he expected similar deals to follow. "We definitely look at this as the first of many," Nocas said.

In an interview at his office in Los Angeles last week, Safran said his first round of programs would all be scripted, as opposed to reality shows, and would probably run under 10 minutes. He said he planned initially to focus on genres, like comedy and horror, that appeal to the Xbox 360 audience, which is heavily concentrated from the ages of 14 to 34, and tends to be more male than female. The first shows are expected to be available to viewers by the fall.

Microsoft's previous forays in digital entertainment include a 2-year-old initiative, MSN Originals, to provide original shows for the Web, and an ill-fated foray more than 10 years ago in which it poured about $100 million into Internet shows like the comedy "475 Madison," about an advertising agency, then quickly canceled most of them.

"The Xbox is unique. It operates at a level outside of what we generally consider Web entertainment," Safran said, referring to the system's tight demographic base, which is defined by the appeal of signature games like the Halo series.

The new shows will be available exclusively via the Xbox 360 for a time, then may appear elsewhere, Safran said. Nocas said at least some of the shows would be supported by advertising.

Current programming on the Xbox 360 includes movies and selections from cable networks like the Sundance Channel and Spike TV. Viewers pay for access to films with points that can be purchased for cash or accumulated through activities on the system.

Nocas said that about 10 million people had signed up for the Xbox Live service. Roughly 18 million of the game systems have been sold worldwide, he said. The Xbox 360 is up against PlayStation 3 from Sony and the Wii from Nintendo in a hotly competitive gaming marketplace.

Safran is the latest in a growing line of Hollywood players who are seeking to tap into the digital entertainment market, where revenue still falls far short of that from traditional movie and television distribution outlets. Filmmakers like Joel and Ethan Coen and stars like Will Ferrell have recently become involved with Web-based companies like FunnyOrDie.com or 60Frames Entertainment.

Safran and Jake Zim, chief operating officer of the Safran Company's Safran Digital Group, said they expected to recruit established filmmakers for their new productions, but did not plan to seek involvement by major movie stars.

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