An Open Letter to Windows Media Center Users: Show Microsoft the Money

Apr 17, 2012 by

Dear Windows Media Center Aficionados Across the World,

I know you’ve been patient. I know you’ve been, at times, frustrated. I know you aren’t asking for much.  So I’m going to wager that some of you may be a tad peeved over Microsoft’s recent announcement that, starting with Windows 8, Media Center will be a pay-for add-on — and limited to Windows 8 Professional licenses.

Don’t be.

In fact, I argue that this is the best outcome for Media Center from a pure commercial perspective. As I mentioned in my wildly optimistic editorial on the same topic, giving Media Center its own product code gives us — the consumers — an opportunity to voice our support the only way that free market capitalism recognizes: the all-mighty dollar (insert your local currency of choice, it’ll all end up being converted to dollars in the end, though).

Now, in that same editorial, I was working off of the (inaccurate) rumor that there would be a specific version of Windows 8 dedicated to Media Center. While that would have been good, the official news that Media Center will be part of an add-on media pack for Windows 8 Pro is even better. I submit that this actually reinforces the positive perspective I advocated in my prior post — that Microsoft is specifically targeting Windows Media Center at the professional market, while allowing Xbox to take care of the needs of the mass consumer market.

To me, on the face of it, this not only makes perfect sense from a marketing/segmentation perspective. but Media Center users will soon get to directly express interest and support for a professional-grade media management system by paying for it — just like Xbox Live users express their interest by paying for services that they desire.  With enough support, Microsoft will have no choice but to regain interest in the best professional-grade media center system available today.

So, Media Center users, fans, and critics alike — I implore you to embrace Microsoft’s new marketing strategy… for our own good.  Yes, paying for something that we’ve been using gratis for years may be a bitter pill to swallow. But swallow it anyway.  It’ll be in service of our collective, enlightened best interest.

Do you think an unexpected surge in Windows 8 Pro media add-on pack purchases in six months’ time would raise some eyebrows in Redmond?  I do.

PS – To hear more about all the potentially wonderful things that could sprout from this new Media Center marketing strategy, please take a listen to this Entertainment 2.0 podcast that Josh & Richard invited me to participate in on April 3, 2012.

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  • http://twitter.com/lozenp Phil Lozen

    I want to agree with everything you say here, Josh. The only issue is, if Windows 8 Media Center is Windows 7 Media Center on a new OS, why would I be interested in upgrading? If they add some new codec support, take advantage of the new interest Ceton is creating in extenders, add some personalization options, etc. then I’m all in. Otherwise, I don’t want to spend a day upgrading my box, resetting up my channels, recordings, et al for the same package.

  • Anonymous

    I really think this has to go both ways in order for this to work.  Microsoft needs to make enough improvements to Media Center to make it worth upgrading from Windows 7 or only the most die-hard fans are going to spend the money to upgrade.

    Maybe we’ll see the resurgance of the retail “Media Center PC” to help bring new users into the fold, but without that, I don’t think this move will help expand Media Center’s appeal at all (it raises the barrier to entry in both cost and complexity.)   My worry is that Media Center is destined to be left behind the way Windows Home Server 2011 has been.

  • http://twitter.com/cjanderson1 Unknown Entity

    I was thinking the same thing this morning. Yes, it is a bitter pill to swallow and overall I am not happy about dishing out for a PRO license and the Media Pack for a product that MS hasn’t supported in well over a year, and was available with a Home Premium license. There is the ongoing Covert Art issue, and a recurring guide issue.

    I am much calmer today than I was yesterday when the announcement came. If this is the only way to save Media Center, then I may have to consider it.

  • http://gcoupe.wordpress.com/ Geoff Coupe

    I have no problem, in principle, over paying for a Media Pack add-on.

    What I object to is not being able to run that Add-on on Windows 8, but instead having to pay a premium for Windows 8 Pro, which contains additional features that I have zero interest in.

    Why can’t Microsoft make the Media Pack Add-on available for Windows 8?

  • Anonymous

    I didn’t want to respond at first, because all I could think was “but only offering it to Windows Pro users limits the potential market”. And while I still feel this is true, there’s more to it than that. Jon makes an excellent point. While I know a number of ‘regular’ people who just use Media Center as a DVR (college students mostly), the fact is that most who use Media Center are enthusiasts. Most of the blame for that is squarely on MS, we all know the reasons why. But some of that is with us as well. I remember when Steven first announced the numbers, and said they came from the optional Consumer Experience Program…..come to find out that most of us here in the MC community purposefully didn’t check the box. Media Center’s most ardent users weren’t even being represented in the numbers. Yet and still, the simple fact is Microsoft is going to use the Xbox and metro-style apps going forward to deliver content. They just don’t ‘get it’, and have moved on to other, already more successful strategies.

    Steven heard our cries, he saw the numbers, that’s the ONLY reason why we’re getting WMC in 8 at all. This is the harsh truth we need to get accustomed to. Just as important is the fact that he mentioned the cost for the Dolby license. Media Center isn’t free, even if they don’t update/improve upon it. I think that’s why we’re going to get charged for it. Sadly, while we now have more of a reason to criticize WMC and its issues going forward because of that, I don’t think it’s going to matter much. We’re paying to keep it going, not to fund continuous development. Bugs need squashing, and having it a part of 8 means they still have to provide
    that to us. Issues like the cover art problem is a perfect example. If we had heard instead that WMC wouldn’t be in 8, we’d have little to no real reason to ever expect any current bugs to be fixed.

    In all, Media Center isn’t dead. While it isn’t the best outcome, we now have something to leverage over them. With what Ceton is doing (having just announced their Echo extender has DTS support), and their whole plan for Media Center in general, shows a bright future for Media Center still.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t really see the logic in having to update your HTPC in the first place. “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” The old adage goes double for an HTPC. There’s no reason to update your machine, especially if its purpose-built. It’s clear to me we aren’t getting anything new. It’s the same version that’s currently in Windows 7. And the last hurdle to absolute confirmation of that is the next preview build of Windows 8.

    All in all, I’m buying Windows 8 Pro, because I’ve always been that sort of user. I’m an enthusiast, so I’ve got to have it. And I have to put my money where my mouth is. I’m buying the Media Center day one, there’s no doubt about it. Now’s the time for us to show our support. Even if you don’t use it in your HTPC, I suggest we all buy it.

  • http://gcoupe.wordpress.com/ Geoff Coupe

    Sorry, so tell me why I need BitLocker and BitLocker To Go, Boot from VHD, Client Hyper-V, Domain Join, Encrypting File System, Group Policy and Remote Desktop (host) just to have Media Center?

    Yes, I agree that WMC users are enthusiasts – but we can be enthusiasts without needing to run Windows 8 Pro.

    Microsoft seem to be deliberately crippling the potential size of the market for the Media Pack. I’m wondering why.

  • Anonymous

    I completely agree, but that’s what I’m saying. MS has moved on. They aren’t crippling it, they’ve chosen a different way to achieve success in the living room. A way that’s already proven far more successful than any other, the Xbox.

    We’re only getting Media Center because we’ve asked loud enough, and Steven Sinofsky is the sort to listen. And for no other reason. If he wasn’t at the helm, we’d have gotten nothing.

  • http://gcoupe.wordpress.com/ Geoff Coupe

    I see your point. But while Microsoft may not be crippling Media Center, they’re certainly not giving it a level playing field. Almost as though they want it to fail, which, given the direction you point to, is not beyond the realms of possibility.

    As you say elsewhere, the best option at the moment seems to be to keep my HTPC running Win7 as long as possible…

  • Anonymous

    …but if it stands unchanged, why should I spend money on it when it doesn’t do anything more than MC7? They HAVE to integrate parts of Media Center into Metro or they will get a highly distorted view of Media Center’s value.

    My big disappointment is that MC8 is an add on to Professional only. I don’t see why I need to buy all of the excess functionality of Win8 Pro to just run Media Center on one PC in my house.

  • Josh

    I hope that Microsoft understands that if I pay money for a specific app and there is an issue, I expect quick response, quality support and software updates.  its the same thing I expect when I buy an App made by one guy in his spare time.

  • http://jondeutsch.com Jon Deutsch

     So, I think something could be said to the effect that WMC users today are by and large looking for professional-grade media management.  If not, they they would have bought one of the “toys” by now — AppleTV, Roku, etc.  

    I think WMC deserves to be exclusively in the Pro tier.  Now we — and Microsoft — need to treat it as such.  The first step in that dance is ours… we need to purchase the add-on licenses to prove we are a market to be reckoned with (or, at least, served!).

  • http://jondeutsch.com Jon Deutsch

    To be completely fair, we actually don’t yet know what we’ll be getting with the media pack add-on.  The presumption is that it’ll be nothing new.  And my editorial is based on this assumption.  But since they’re going to productize it, perhaps new things will be arriving with our new SKU!

  • http://twitter.com/welchwerks Greg Welch

    I for one think seperation of WMC is a great idea, why?

    When programmers start making metro style apps/Tiles that replicate each function in media center, i.e Ceton Tuner setup, Live Cable/Satalite TV, Recorded TV HD, My Movies it  will grow to be a very robust media experience

    but till that happens having media center as an add-in and not backed in , while allowing all current users to continue to use it and there 3rd party software while still upgrading to a more robust OS     “HAS MY VOTE “

  • http://twitter.com/VINYLFREAK TIM BLACK

    I would Really Hope that M$, doesn’t expect us to buy a higher priced SKU of Win 8, plus pay for whatever added expense of the Media Pack brings to the table, and Not Add features and functionality to MC. That would be ignorant on there part and , a Huge Slap In The Face to the Loyal user base MC currently has.

    Just saying.

  • http://gcoupe.wordpress.com/ Geoff Coupe

    Sorry, but I disagree with your logic.

    I fail to see why I should be purchasing BitLocker and BitLocker To Go, Boot from VHD, Client
    Hyper-V, Domain Join, Encrypting File System, Group Policy and Remote Desktop
    (host) just to have Media Center. I have zero interest in those features,
    they are not currently necessary to run Media Center, and they make the Pro
    version of Windows 7 about $100 more expensive than Home Premium.That’s
    $100 down the drain as far as I’m concerned, if that is to be the case for
    Windows 8.

    As I say, I have no problem about paying for the Media Pack (on the assumption that it delivers value to me, and will be a supported product). But I do have a problem about having to shell out good money on a platform that I don’t need or want.

  • http://bjdraw.com Ben Drawbaugh

    You really think they’ll fix bugs now that MC is available for Windows 8 even know they haven’t released any bug fixes for Media Center in Windows 7 since October of 2010? If the fixes aren’t in the preview of Windows 8, I don’t see any scenario where MS would fix them in the future.

  • http://jondeutsch.com Jon Deutsch

     Well, this happens in just about anything in life.  You want that car with heated seats? Guess what – it’s packaged with the “weather package” full of stuff you may not need nor care about.  But it’s a package.

    True, software has more flexibility than hardware, so I grant you that difference.  But there’s two elements that I think remain germane:

    1. If you don’t want to play with the pros, then go enjoy your Xbox.  It doesn’t require a Windows 8 Pro license. 

    2. There may be elements of Windows that they dropped out of the standard license to save costs — like all the DVR services.  Perhaps some WMC-related services are either enhanced or utilized by some of the elements packaged in the Pro tier.

    Ideally, MSFT will actually bring forth new services in Pro that have direct benefit on a Pro Media pack.  We shall see.

    In the end, I’d argue that WMC is a professional-grade media management system that is suitable to be linked with the Win 8 Pro license.  And if you count yourself out because of the price, then that’s OK: MSFT has a consumer-grade solution for you as well in their Xbox.

  • http://bjdraw.com Ben Drawbaugh

    I’ll bet you the unknown cost of the Media Pack, that that is exactly what Microsoft is doing. At the very most, MS might make some Metro apps that leverage Media Center, but even that is just dreaming.

  • Anonymous

    Frankly, I really don’t. That’s why I said although we now have more of a reason to criticize WMC and its issues going forward because of it being a paid offering, I don’t think it’s going to matter much. The amount they charge is probably only enough to cover the cost of Dolby Digital decoding and the guide data.

  • http://bjdraw.com Ben Drawbaugh

    I’m glad Microsoft has decided to continue to support Media Center in Windows 8 in any fashion, but I’m not going to buy something just to show my support. There simply aren’t enough of us to make an impact. I’ll buy a Windows 8 upgrade if I can get a good deal on it (like the $50 Windows 7 preorder), but I’m not going to pay full price to upgrade my dedicated HTPC when there isn’t a single feature enhancement and I don’t even expect bug fixes.

    Ceton is the only hope for Media Center fans, they were able to resurrect the Extender from the dead, and seem to be the only one continuing development on Embedded. They built a big part of their business around the MC and I’m sure they are very happy to know that Windows 8 users are potential customers.

  • http://jondeutsch.com Jon Deutsch

     I kind of agree.  But if a million $30 media pack licenses are sold, perhaps that will change the orientation around P&L and investment for Media Center up in in Redmond.   It certainly changes the dynamic for us as consumers… because we become paying consumers for a specific SKU that they are more directly accountable to. 

    With Vista/Win7, WMC was a “push” so we had very little if any leverage.

  • http://jondeutsch.com Jon Deutsch

     I love Ceton for what they’re doing, but WMC needs an ecosystem to survive, and I don’t think Ceton has the firepower to help an ecosystem flourish.  I hope I’m wrong.  I love their mojo.

    I am not suggesting you buy something just to support it.  The presumption is that at some point in time, Win 8 Pro w/WMC will be a net-benefit due to a series of things, including WinRT apps and the online store. 

  • http://jondeutsch.com Jon Deutsch

     Heck – all we need is actually the APIs and hooks into Media Center services, and it seems like any 1/2-savvy dev could build out Metro apps that could in some ways transform Media Center into a modern marvel.  Just the capability to do so would be a huge win in my mind.  Today’s WMC environment is proprietary and very difficult to monetize (due to lack of store).

  • http://bjdraw.com Ben Drawbaugh

    They tried that with Made for Media Center. If you don’t think people at Microsoft helped Ian with that project, you are crazy.

  • http://bjdraw.com Ben Drawbaugh

    Ceton has the firepower to stand on Media Center’s sholders and make products that make the small company profitable. One day they might even be as big as TiVo, but even TiVo is a niche for enthusiasts. 

    The reality is that in the current multi-video provider environment, no one can make a box that competes with your provider’s, for the mainstream. It is a failure of the FCC to enforce the Telecom Act of 1996. Congress needs to go back and revise the law to make it effective. 

  • http://gcoupe.wordpress.com/ Geoff Coupe

    “If you don’t want to play with the pros, then go enjoy your Xbox”.

    How very condescending of you. No, I don’t want an Xbox, thank you. I’ll be sticking with WMC on Win7 for as long as I can, and then I’ll take a look at what’s on the market. JRiver is looking increasingly attractive, but I’m sure there will be others.

  • http://jondeutsch.com Jon Deutsch

     Isn’t that one of the unique benefits of WMC (and Ceton)?  That it’s the ONLY non-proprietary box that plays with the providers (at least in the States) and doesn’t work against them?   I see this straddling to be a savvy approach to the practical issues we face in the highly uncompetitive provider space.   It’s why I think Apple has officially kept this stuff in the hobby category.  They can’t iTunes their way into this industry!

  • http://jondeutsch.com Jon Deutsch

    Yes, Ian tried Made for Media Center.  A valiant attempt. But ultimately not the right approach.  And, no fault of Ian’s, it was just a bit too clunky to really transform the process.

    The Microsoft Store will be an entirely different animal.  Much more akin to the Windows Phone Marketplace, Google Play, etc.  

  • http://jondeutsch.com Jon Deutsch

     Geoff – it was supposed to be faux-condesention…  not real dismissiveness.  The point is of course you can keep your Win 7 WMC.  Nobody is challenging this option!

    What I’m challenging is the short-term anger over this arrangement and trying to get folks to see that we will all benefit (thanks to free-market forces) if we invest heavily in a brand-new SKU that shows MSFT that this is a platform worth investing in vs. ignoring.

    And with regards to my condescending statement, if you take the condescension out of it, the outcome is precisely what I think should happen:  you either value the pro-level stuff and it’s worth your money, or it’s not.  It’s the exact same thing Toyota has done with Lexus, VW with Audi, Honda with Acura, etc.

    There are segmentations here that are proven to work.  And not everyone values the higher prices of a Luxury brand… but enough do to warrant that stratification. 

  • http://gcoupe.wordpress.com/ Geoff Coupe

    Jon – OK, I accept that you weren’t trying to be condescending.

    I value pro-level stuff where it’s worth my money – I don’t value suppliers sticking a fancy badge on something for fake-cachet, or asking me to pay for something that I’ll never use.

    I’m just not convinced at this point that Microsoft will deliver value to me (or the market) by this (what seems to me to be) smoke and mirrors segmentation.

    Perhaps you’re right – enough people will be taken in by it that WMC will live on, and Microsoft will sell some more Windows 8 Pro SKUs in place of Windows 8. But I can’t help feeling that if Microsoft had made the Media Pack available for the Windows 8 SKU as well, they would have actually made more money, because the potential market is far bigger.

  • http://bjdraw.com Ben Drawbaugh

    Right, Apple isn’t in the space because there is no way for anyone to make a meaningful improvement because of the cable cos.

  • http://bjdraw.com Ben Drawbaugh

    Right, Apple isn’t in the space because there is no way for anyone to make a meaningful improvement because of the cable cos.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/DDG2MW3QE6EMEUVIDIBHADHERQ LASooner

    The fact that you HAVE to buy the higher priced version and purchase a “Media Pack” on top of that put the writing clearly on the wall. Microsoft is placating existing users of Media Center but they are putting media center on the path to extermination. If they had made it a add-on for any version of Windows 8, that would have shown more of a commitment. But this is the “Plus Pack” all over again. If you look at what’s in the Beta, I would essentially be putting out a lot of extra money to get more or less the same version I have for “free” in Windows 7.  Microsoft has shown NOTHING that even deserves my attention, much less my money with regards to media center. Come on Google do something with Sage TV!

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/DDG2MW3QE6EMEUVIDIBHADHERQ LASooner

    “We’re paying to keep it going, not to fund continuous development. Bugs need squashing, and having it a part of 8 means they still have to provide ”

    But that’s just it, it’s NOT part of windows 8, it is an add on that can be easily abandoned. And since it’s not subscription based, they won’t benefit much after you bought it.

  • Vincent Just

    my thought was -where does this put Media Center on tablets?  Tablets could have been the coolest extenders out there.  Live Tv on your tablet – virtually PIP in the living room.  I’m assuming low end tablets will have Win8 RT which probably has no chance of any media center extender type capabilities.  Then will higher end tablets with Win8 tablets even have a upgrade path to Win8 Pro? 

    Hoping for the best but expecting the worst.

  • Ryan Snyder

    I have been using WMC since Vista, mainly through the Xbox but after 3 xbox have died, i started to use Mac Mini’s with Boot Camp and Windows 7. Unless there are some huge WMC changes and price is not crazy (don’t have much money) I will stay on Win7 until XBMC Frodo comes out. I only record OTA so no need for Cable Card, but i would be willing to bet that in the future there will be working Cable Card integration for MythTV or other product. 

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