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Originally published December 22, 2013 at 12:48 PM | Page modified December 23, 2013 at 6:29 AM

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Series is next step for Xbox studios

Xbox Entertainment Studios is planning an original documentary series; same-day delivery not on front-burner for Costco; surprise Santa is Bill Gates.


By Seattle Times business staff

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It’s not only Netflix and Amazon.com that are getting into producing their own original programming.

Xbox Entertainment Studios, created in 2012, has slowly been getting into the game. In May it announced its first original program — “Halo, the Television Series,” produced by Steven Spielberg.

This past week the studio said it will also be developing a multifilm documentary series with Academy Award-winning producer Simon Chinn (“Searching for Sugar Man” and “Man on Wire”) and Emmy-winning producer Jonathan Chinn (FX’s “30 Days” and PBS’ “American High”).

The first installment in the documentary series will have the film crew pursuing the urban legend that in 1983 video-game company Atari had buried millions of the not-well-received, unsold “E.T. the Extra Terrestrial” game cartridges in Alamogordo, New Mexico. Shooting on the dig is scheduled to start in January.

The series is scheduled to air sometime next year via Xbox Live on Xbox 360 and Xbox One.

The studio is hoping to get the first of its original programming up by first or second quarter of 2014, according to a Variety interview with Xbox Entertainment Studios chief Nancy Tellem.

The Variety report says getting the original series developed took a bit longer than Tellem had hoped. It also examines how Microsoft is trying to figure out its niche in the entertainment industry as entertainment platforms evolve.

Tellem’s team has to figure out what will resonate with Xbox customers, how to schedule programming and the proper business models to use for deals, among other things, Variety reports.

“We aren’t Netflix, we aren’t Amazon, we’re a different animal,” Variety quotes Tellem as saying. “We’re neither, or we’re a little like them. It all depends.”

— Janet I. Tu: jtu@seattletimes.com

Costco in no rush on same-day delivery

Apparently, the onslaught of same-day-delivery options from the likes of Amazon and eBay isn’t making warehouse club giant Costco lose any sleep. The reason, according to the Issaquah-based company’s Chief Financial Officer Richard Galanti, is simple.

“People actually do like to go out and shop,” he said on a recent earnings conference call.

Costco has a growing online business, based on delivering TVs, swing sets, furniture and other things people don’t want to push around in a cart in a crowded warehouse.

But it’s only 2.5 percent of the company’s business. The old-fashioned, brick-and-mortar part that makes up the remaining 97.5 percent of Costco’s business has “continued to grow nicely,” Galanti said.

Galanti’s comments came on the same day Amazon announced it is extending its Amazon Fresh service to San Francisco.

Since then, media reports have said Amazon is planning a “pantry” service to deliver bulk items, underscoring how the two giants are increasingly finding themselves fighting over the same turf.

But to Galanti, Amazon is more directly in competition with traditional supermarkets where people stop two or three times a week than with Costco. Those supermarkets compete with Costco as well.

“We know our members, our most loyal members, are still getting some of those things at supermarkets, at other forms of convenience. And Amazon will be just one of those or other forms of overnight or other delivery,” Galanti said.

That said, Galanti acknowledged that the formidable e-commerce giant provides a lot of quality and convenience to customers — for a price. “You’re paying for that convenience,” he said.

— Ángel González: agonzalez@seattletimes.com

Bill Gates plays Secret Santa on Reddit

For most folks, a Secret Santa might turn out to be the colleague who works a few cubicles down.

But one participant in Reddit’s Secret Santa gift exchange got a thrill when she found out her Secret Santa was none other than Bill Gates.

The participant, named Rachel, wrote a post Wednesday about how she found out.

Rachel was participating in redditgifts, in which Internet strangers/friends from around the world exchange gifts with each other.

Last year, the Secret Santa exchange — one of several redditgifts’ online gift exchanges each year — had 44,805 participants.

Rachel writes that she first saw the gift — a stuffed-animal cow — and a card that said simply: “to Rachel, from Bill.”

The card clarified that this Bill had donated to the charity Heifer International on her behalf — hence the stuffed cow.

The gift also included a travel book.

But it wasn’t until Rachel got to the signed card from one “Bill Gates,” and saw a photo Gates had included of himself with the stuffed cow and the signed card, that “it finally hit me,” Rachel wrote. “All the presents I just tore open, the charity, then everything — was from Bill GATES.”

“My god. Never in my entire life did I imagine, ever, ever, ever that Bill would get me,” she continued writing.

“I am SO SO thankful for the time, thought and energy he put into my gift, and especially thankful for him overnighting it :) ”

John Pinette, a Gates family spokesman, said: “Bill had a great experience doing an AMA on Reddit earlier in the year — so this was a fun way to re-engage with the community.”

Bill and Melinda Gates had chosen Heifer International as one of four charities they highlighted during Giving Tuesday and their foundation had worked with the organization in the past.

“It’s a great charity that gets practical help to poor families that can have a lasting impact, so it’s a nice double win to get to participate in the gift swap — as well as plug a charity that’s doing good work,” Pinette said.

— Janet I. Tu: jtu@seattletimes.com



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