When Nancy Tellem was brought in to set up a television-production studio within Microsoft's Xbox division, one of her first challenges was overcoming the language barrier. The former CBS honcho quickly learned that Hollywood and tech jargon don't always translate.
For example, when Elan Lee, the chief design officer at Xbox Entertainment Studios, said he needed a programmer to help complete an assignment, Tellem offered to find someone experienced in broadcast scheduling. After a back-and-forth, Lee clarified that he was looking for a software engineer.
"Language alone was a challenge — just understanding the language here versus the language there," Tellem says.
Tellem has learned a lot about how technology and television can go hand in hand to further Microsoft's efforts in delivering original video content exclusively to owners of Xbox video-game consoles. As the company's president of entertainment, Tellem acts as the unofficial translator between Hollywood and Redmond, Washington. She's found herself explaining to various Microsoft executives the differences between linear TV programming and Web-delivered video. (Linear runs at a set time.)
Outside of Microsoft's walls, the onetime network TV exec, who helped bring "Friends" and "CSI" into millions of people's living rooms, also plays the role of tech expert. From the company's 21,000-square-foot office in Santa Monica, California, Tellem kicks off meetings with TV producers she's trying to woo by demonstrating features of the Xbox before telling them how original programming fits in.
Every show Tellem's team green-lights must offer some kind of interactive features in each episode, whether it's being able to switch between different camera angles or getting achievements for watching and rating shows. Xbox Entertainment Studios has four criteria for excellence: The series should be "smart, a bit disruptive, captivating and authentic," she says. So far, the company has a dozen shows in development, and the true test will be whether it can produce a "House of Cards" for the millennial generation.
"We've got to figure out what works or not, and that's our next challenge," Tellem says.
At Microsoft's entertainment post with dazzling views of the Pacific, a bell rings every time the group of 30-something TV execs sign a deal. Recently, the ringing has been happening more frequently as Hollywood and Microsoft start to speak the same language.