Microsoft literally went Hollywood Tuesday night, unveiling its new "Bing Entertainment" search service to a star-studded audience at a private West Hollywood club.
The search engine is pushing to stake a claim in the entertainment space, bringing in Ryan Seacrest to host a panel with the likes of Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow, Mad Men's Matthew Weiner, musician T-Bone Burnett, and even Twitter co-Founder Biz Stone.
Bing is fighting a tough battle to gain search market share from the Google behemoth, and this is an investment in distinguishing its service.
Bing Entertainment includes TV, movies, games, and music, and is designed to allow users to watch video, play an online game, buy movie or concert tickets, listen to a song or find lyrics without ever leaving the website. A search doesn't just yield web links, it offers a solution —the content itself -- thanks to a slew of partnerships with various media companies from music labels to Hulu and CBS .
Bing integrates location (users have to opt-in) so movie and concert results are customized to where you're sitting. Bing also integrates Twitter and Facebook more fully than ever. You can invite friends to watch videos, you can comment on what you're watching, and you can search what the Twitterverse is saying and how your Facebook friends are reacting to a certain topic.
Microsoft's hoping to tap into a huge market — there are 1.5 BILLION queries every month on entertainment topics. The longer the company can keep users on the site, the more revenue it can generate from search queries, its own ads, as well as revenue sharing with the likes of Hulu.
Yusuf Medhi, Bing's SVP who unveiled the service wouldn't reveal the deal the company struck with the music labels, but Bing is giving away one-time access to five million full songs, and 30-second clips after that. The service directs users to buy songs from their choice of services -- iTunes, Amazon, or Zune. The idea is that the free music will encourage more purchases. Medhi reports that 70 percent of people who search music are looking for lyrics, so Bing is offering lyrics to five million songs.
When it comes to video, the Hulu player embedded directly into the Bing site. Bing is sharing the ad revenue with Hulu and other services, allowing the search engine to offer 20,000 full-length episodes of programs from Hulu, YouTube, CBS and other networks.
Casual gaming has been a huge success for companies like Zynga on Facebook, and now Bing's looking for a piece of that action. Bing's offering 100 casual games, from checkers and poker to Bubble Town. Online gaming is inherently social, so Bing's allowing users to sign into Facebook from its site and play against friends or see friends' game feeds without leaving Bing.com. Microsoft bought an equity stake in Facebook for $240 million back in 2007, and this strengthens their ties even further.
The panel that followed the announcement delved into the future of entertainment. With nine people on the stage, there wasn't much time to hear from each, but there was much talk about how technology has democratized the content-making process. Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt discussed how his startup, HitRecord.org turns spectators into collaborators. Bigelow praised technology — and services like Twitter in particular — for giving her film 'The Hurt Locker" huge momentum despite a limited marketing budget.
But as content creators, some of these big names defended the importance of protecting their product from the technology revolution. T-Bone Burnett ranted that his process of music making is still the same; it's just the delivery and consumption that's changed. Matthew Weiner railed against the rise of multi-tasking, begging people to focus solely on his labor of love, rather than watching Mad Men on their laptops sandwiched between porn on one side and i-chat on the other. Whether or not he likes it, people are watching TV with mobile device in hand, providing the likes of "Hangover" director Todd Phillips, who was also there, an instant focus group on his film. It also means that movies thrive or die much faster on word of mouth.
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