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Interview: on Xbox Live

Kevin Kelly

Last week we published the first part of our on Xbox Live interview, speaking with Christina DeRosa, a general manager for Xbox Live. Today, we present the second part, a conversation with Orlena Yeung, VP of Marketing at After the break, read Yeung's take from the side of the deal, as she discusses a range of topics, including why her company is better than Pandora, its social media plans, and how audio scrobbling works in APB.

Gallery: (Xbox 360) | 9 Photos

Is the functionality that's coming to Xbox Live the same functionality you get on the website? Previously, there was a rather wonky way to access through the Media Center. What about now?

A little bit of yes and no. I think, yes, it will be the experience that users are accustomed to, and that idea of the recommended music and the personalized radio stations,

We are going to work with Xbox and take advantage of being on another platform.

and as per our new radio page, that kind of multi-sensory visual experience. So that will be the same in terms of the core experience.

I guess what will be different is obviously we are going to work with Xbox and take advantage of being on another platform and take advantage of what that platform offers. And secondly, because it is in the living room now versus on your PC, it is going to have a different user interaction experience. So all those things will be optimized for it to be on the Xbox platform and be in the living room, but ultimately it is that experience that our users, and probably now new Xbox users, value.

As far as the Xbox users will be made available to, is this going to be for Gold members only?

We are working out all the details, but no. We are definitely hoping that this will be more available to everyone. There will probably be different tiers of the service, but we would like everyone to have an experience, or be able to at least experience it and see what it is like.

Will the service be available to all Xbox users, or is it specific to certain regions? We're guessing it'll be available in the UK, since is based in the UK ...

Right. is a global service, so we will be available in the US. We are obviously looking at other territories as well, given both the brands are quite global in nature, but that has yet to be determined.

Hopefully that will include Canada, which sometimes gets shut out of plans that include North America, like with Hulu.

Sure. And of course there are lots of parameters around that, as cited by your Hulu example, but yeah. Sure. We definitely want this experience to be as broad as possible and be available to as many people as possible.

Will the Xbox now become a device that you can audio scrobble from?

Yes, the device will scrobble. We will be front and center when you think about music on Xbox, so we are pretty excited. [Editors' note: Microsoft later clarified, "We circled back on this one and can confirm that music played in other parts of the dash will not be scrobbled. In other words, you can't put in an audio CD and scrobble."]

Will you be able to log into on your computer and see if any of your friends there are also Xbox Live users, and vice versa? Will your accounts be tied together?

That is definitely really interesting, and that is definitely one of the reasons why Xbox is so attractive to us in the first place, because there is that big community angle to Xbox Live. And as you know, the platform is community driven. So in the future, being able to really marry those communities more and have that be transparent is definitely
something that we want to think about.

But in the first iteration of this experience, it is really about getting up and running in an appropriate way for that living room experience. So those types of community integrations, we know we have talked about it obviously, and it is something that seems obvious that we should be doing in the future, but that really will not be in the first implementation.

Twitter was one of the other big, social media announcements for Xbox 360 at E3. Are you guys going to be taking advantage of that service, or do you already?

You can Twitter your Loved Tracks or have your them appear in your Facebook profile. On Facebook, you can see what your friends are listening to and things like that. After hearing the announcement and seeing that social connectivity, I guess, between all these new apps and experiences, I think that is something we can definitely explore.

But like I said, we are really just focused on the Xbox as a different environment for us. Of course, while it is the same service in essence, there is quite a bit of work that we need to do with the Xbox to make sure that it works well for their users. The first iteration is about that and then we can see where else we can go.

We noticed when searching there are help pages for the iPod, but not for the Zune. Do you have plans for improved Zune support, given this partnership with Microsoft?

I think there is an open door with us and Xbox. You even pointed out Media Center before and Zune -- there are some obvious connections there. But we haven't really discussed those in any detail.

Does have any sort of exclusivity deal in place with Microsoft barring the company from, say, reaching out to an additional internet radio provider like Pandora and adding its service to Xbox Live, as well?

I suspect that we will be the primary streaming music provider, but that is something I would rather not comment on in too much detail right now.

So how did the deal between and Xbox happen? Did Microsoft approach you recently? is all about the people who listen to it and feed back into the system.

Actually, I approached them a while back and talking about being an interesting compliment, especially with that brand between the community driven activities and around entertainment. It was something that we were talking about on and off for quite a while. Then we had a really good meeting with some of the Xbox folks and talked a little bit more about and our value proposition and around music discovery, and that whole idea of really enabling people to have a richer music life.

That enablement, if you will, is really community driven. is all about the people who listen to it and feed back into the system. You have everything from artist bios to recommendation, and then all that is driven by the community. And there seemed to be a really nice connection between that and Xbox Live being that community of gamers and being able to have that social gaming experience, and ultimately a social entertainment experience. So we then started developing and moving into more specific discussions leading up to the E3 announcement last week.

Was that at this year's GDC?


That was January. That's pretty quick to move from a preliminary conversation to a major announcement at the beginning of June.

Yeah, I guess so. We have been talking since end of last year, so I think we have a pretty clear idea of what we were looking to offer and what we thought the experience could be. And we happened to be a good fit for the Xbox strategy, which I will let them comment on, of course. So yeah, it came together.

We recently talked to EJ Moreland of Realtime Worlds, who is working on a big-budget MMO game called APB. He told us that you are working with his studio, as well; to have in the game to match up music for users. How did that happen, and are you guys working with any other game developers?

Currently, no. The one that you are referencing actually happened quite a while ago. It was a little bit before my time.

APB is going to be the first game to scrobble.

But I definitely think there is a huge, obvious connection between music and gaming, especially when you look at all the music games that are coming out, like Rock Band and stuff. But even before that, like all the soundtracks for games and just music overall enhancing that gaming experience.

So with the Realtime world game that you are mentioning, APB, I think it is going to be the first game to scrobble. I am not sure how they explained it to you, but my understanding is when you are driving your car and you are listening to music, that music is actually streaming from your hard drive. It is not streaming, it is you playing
your music natively. But then what happens is we are able to scrobble that information. That is pretty cool, the first game that scrobbles.

The next part that is really interesting, where you are bringing in more of the community element, is let's say a car pulled up next to you and they are playing music. We will, with the system, figure out if you have that on your hard drive, and if so, play that song. And if not, the interesting part is it will play a similar artist. So if your friend pulls up and is blaring hip hop, and we don't have that specific song, we will also play hip hop for you. I think that is kind of an interesting community angle.

Have you looked at bringing that sort of community functionality to Xbox games?

We haven't yet. We are starting with Xbox Live, but like you said, there is obviously a ton of opportunity in there when you are looking across the Microsoft portfolio, even if just in gaming, of what we can do. We have discussed it in the sense of, "Hey, that would be interesting, but right now let's focus on getting it up on Xbox Live and having that be a huge value for the Live community, and then let's see where else it can go."

Say you are on listening to music through on your Xbox Dashboard, and there is a song you like. Would there be an option to buy the song or the music video through the Xbox Marketplace?

That is something I think you should talk to Xbox about. That is something they will need to build and figure out how to manage technically.

Is Microsoft developing the graphical interface or are you guys working on that? Who is working on the interface?

They are developing the interface. We are working very closely with them and obviously making sure things go smoothy. It is beneficial to both of us that the UI is familiar to our users and makes sense with the content that is providing. So it is a really collaborative effort, but they are building it within their environment.

Microsoft showed some screens at the E3 keynote, are those final?

Yeah, the showed some screens, I think. I wasn't at the event, but it is in the early early stages of development. We have looked at what they have done so far on the UI and we think it is great. It will go really well with how people browse music and discover new artists and stations and such. Obviously there is quite a bit of time from now until launch, and it is a constant development, but I think what they showed actually looks really good.

As far as goes, is Pandora your closest competition? What market do you target?

I think it kind of depends when you talk about competition. There are several different ways to look at it, from a consumer point of view or a business point of view. We get talked about in Pandora circles quite a bit. In a way it is interesting, because Pandora does streaming radio, of course. does do streaming radio, but we also offer a lot of other things beyond streaming radio.'s value is in its ability to recommend a huge variety of artists.

I think's value is really the recommendation system. We have the ability to recommend a huge variety of artists. That is related to streaming in some instances, but it is a different value prop, if that makes sense. And also, how we contextualize music is very different too. Pandora is great. You type in an artist name, a genre, hit play, and it plays forever. You can certainly have that experience on, but above and beyond that, there is also that really big community element that I keep talking about that is the huge part of what fuels our recommendation engine.

We do a lot of event listings with a lot of event information. So if you want to know what is playing in Tokyo, Berlin, or New York, go to and we have a really large database of events. We have lots of artist bios and information about the artists, which then leads to, again, that similar artist recommendation scenario that I mentioned. So in some ways, yes. When people think about internet radio, Pandora and come to mind, but on the other hand, we are kind of in a somewhat different space if you look at the products overall. seems to be the more social platform, which is why it appears to be an appropriate fit for Xbox Live. Would you elaborate on that?

Yeah, exactly. I think the element of discovery is really key. It is great to be able to listen to music that sounds similar based on the human genome project and how Pandora thinks about building music stations. For us, it is really about what the community listens to and how then that informs a recommendation system. It is very different in some ways, but yeah, I would say that people do talk about us in the same breath.

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