Around October last year, Microsoft UK launched an interest concept – raising the awareness of Windows Media Center across a diverse audience. Their hook was the offer of a free USB TV tuner that could be used to turn any PC with Windows Media Center into a fully fledged digital video recorder.
The offer was heavily over-subscribed by a factor of 300%! Free stuff is always a good lure but the scheme gave the team at Microsoft UK some insight into what people are looking for. When the programme was closed at the end of 2009, we were asked to fill out a survey. 9 out of 10 participants rated Windows Media Center as either excellent or good. 97% of the programme participants said they would continue to use the service after the end of the trial.
What I think has led Microsoft to continue to look at how to move forwards, though, is the last statistic that has been shared with us: 88% said they wouldn’t have tried Windows Media Center if they hadn’t taken part in the campaign. Indeed, I suspect that they might not even have known that it exists!
Following the closure – or perhaps suspension – of the TV Ambassador programme, we were all asked if we would like to be considered for one of five places on a new concept, Most Valued Consumer. Those applying had to say why we thought we should become an MVC and how we would spread the “TV on PC” love with Windows Media Center in the future.
It took a while for the decision to be made final but I learnt recently that I was one of the five, along with Andrew Edney, who is also an MVP for Windows Home Server, Richard Evans (@barnsdale), Graham Miller and Steve Holme.
Last week, the five of us were invited to visit Microsoft’s office near Victoria Station for the day. The first half of the day was spent talking about Windows Media Center, aspects of Windows 7 that expand the functionality of WMC such as HomeGroups and Play To, plus new additions to WMC functionality such as Sky Player and MSN Video Player. The second half of the day was spent talking with the Senior Marketing Manager for Windows Media Center EMEA, the Portal Business Manager for MSN UK and one of the Program Managers.
One of the challenges that Microsoft does seem to face is simply lack of awareness of the amazing functionality that Windows Media Center delivers. WMC was originally conceived as an additional component to Windows XP and then incorporated into Vista Home Premium & Ultimate, then wider versions of Windows 7 (Home Premium, Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate). From a PVR perspective, it implements the broadest set of common and prominent features when compared to other software-based PVRs. So the primary challenge facing Microsoft seems to be how to raise the level of awareness.
We talked about the role of the MVC and the possible future for the TV Ambassador programme. It was explained that both programmes are currently exclusive to Microsoft UK but that the rest of Microsoft is looking on with interest to see if there is merit to running either or both on a larger scale.
Personally, I am very pleased that Microsoft UK have taken the initiative and even more pleased to be a part of it. I think that all too often there is functionality in Windows that is US-centric. It was good to hear that there is a development team based in Ireland that are tasked with functionality such as DVB-T and Freeview compatibility.
I’ll be writing a separate article shortly that is my wishlist for the future of Windows Media Center. I’ll also share some of the slides from a PowerPoint presentation we were given at the start of the day that is an overview of some of the features and functions.
Overall, it was a great day and I hope that Microsoft (UK) continue to work with the community on driving the functionality forwards.