Microsoft's knocking on TV's door again

Jim BartholdThere's been so much going on in the cable TV space lately, mostly on the regulatory side, that the industry's technological advances have sometimes slipped beneath the radar. Of course, it makes it more difficult to keep track of these things when cable executives insist on flying any new technology as if it was an impossible-to-detect stealth bomber--but that's another story.

This dearth of technology news versus the onslaught of regulatory and programming news could be why warning flags failed to unfurl when word started to slip out that Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT), the little engine that once thought it could, is again thinking it can deliver television products. That's right: Microsoft--not Apple TV or Google TV, Roku or Boxee Box, or any of the other familiar names.

Technology news site TechRadar offered up a juicy little morsel entitled "Microsoft's stealth move onto your TV" that chronicled the latest quiet incursion from the Redmond, Wash. giant back into the business it always seems to have coveted.

Microsoft and TV used to be news the way broadcasters and retransmission and sports and Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA) are today. The problem is, most of that Microsoft and TV news was generated by Microsoft, usually at trade shows where bright eyed young company executives dragged the media and probably more than a few cable operators into suites or conference rooms or hotel meeting rooms and unveiled the latest, greatest, next generation of Microsoft TV ... the likes of which wouldn't be seen until the next trade show.

For some reason, a company that brilliantly put itself into every computerized device without Apple seeds couldn't get into the television. It couldn't get into the set-top, couldn't get into the display, and couldn't get into the software.

Now, at least according to the article, it's managed to do just that--only without the bright young execs, the luxurious hotel suites or the trade shows.

"You won't see a big splashy launch for Microsoft TV and when you sit down to relax in front of your choice of broadcast TV, online content, TV recordings and DVDs (all from the same set-top box) you might never know it's Microsoft," the story said.

Probably the smartest thing the company's ever done. It's not as if Microsoft hasn't made inroads into pay television. It has its claws in AT&T U-Verse, among other IPTV systems and keeps attacking cable the way rapids attack rocks to get into set-tops. But TVs that come on with the little jingle and announcement that they're starting Microsoft Windows--that's a thing of the past.

"We're not building a consumer brand," Mark Prendergrast, the senior product manager for the Windows Embedded marketing group told TechRadar. "This is all about helping partners so they can build their brand."

Helping partners build their brand?

It just goes beyond comment.--Jim