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Thursday, Aug 11, 2022
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Hollywood Clicks With Microsoft

No doubt you noticed last week that Microsoft announced that it is getting into the computer tablet business. But did you notice where Microsoft chose to make that announcement? Los Angeles.

Los Angeles is nowhere near Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, Wash., where the company usually makes announcements. It’s not close to Silicon Valley, where tech devices are typically unveiled. Los Angeles is known for red-carpet screenings and pop-tart careenings, not for launching and demonstrating tech products.

Microsoft is certainly big enough and strategic enough to choose carefully where it makes a big announcement. After all, the setting sends a message. So why Los Angeles?

Actually, Microsoft’s execs lately have been popping up here regularly. They were conspicuously on the podium at the Electronic Entertainment Expo video-game conference here earlier this month and the All Things Digital conference in Rancho Palos Verdes late last month. And Microsoft chose downtown Los Angeles to hold its big annual Worldwide Partner Conference last July. The company’s execs have traveled here so often they must know all the hot spots at LAX. (That’s a joke. There aren’t any.)

Maybe Microsoft is setting up camp here because it wants to be – or needs to be – associated with Hollywood. Of course, the Hollywood of today is not just about movies but includes so-called content providers, or the media, entertainment and gaming industries. And they’re on new platforms and tech devices. And they tend to be clustered in Santa Monica and down the coast in what’s called Silicon Beach.

Today’s Hollywood-Silicon Beach is perfect for the way Microsoft is moving. The company has been expanding from its software roots into more of a gaming and entertainment company. It’s successful Xbox and now its tablet means Microsoft is no longer just about making the innards of a computer function so that consumers lean in to work on spreadsheets. No, Microsoft now is more about providing platforms where the end users lean back and get entertained or informed.

As such, its image needs to change. When you think of Microsoft, you need to stop imaging Bill Gates haranguing sullen engineers inside an immense and featureless office campus in the drizzly Northwest. You need to start imaging Steve Ballmer driving top down in his Bentley between a producer’s mansion in sunny Beverly Hills and a content-creating tech company in Silicon Beach.

Let’s think again about Microsoft’s announcement last week in which it introduced its tablet, called Surface. Because the announcement wasn’t just held in Los Angeles. It was held in the Milk Studios, a working production house in Hollywood. That’s a setting that sends a message: Microsoft is in the entertainment industry. Conveniently, many of the articles about Microsoft’s Surface were datelined “Hollywood.”

An article in Wired magazine last week pointed out something else interesting: A few days before the announcement, the news that Microsoft would make its own tablet hardware was broken not by tech blogs or the several trade publications devoted to Microsoft but by show biz news site the Wrap.

Cozying up to Hollywood is “logical” for Microsoft, wrote Ryan Tate in his article in Wired. He explained: “The living room is the last big emerging market not yet dominated by Apple. … Microsoft is ahead in the living room thanks to Xbox, but it needs to broaden its appeal beyond hardcore videogamers if it’s going to keep that lead.”

The fact that Microsoft, one of the country’s biggest companies, is increasingly edging into town, is validation for today’s Hollywood. And Microsoft could become an important partner for the future of L.A.’s signature industry.

You know, maybe Los Angeles has become the logical setting for entertainment-oriented tech product unveilings.

Charles Crumpley is editor of the Business Journal. He can be reached at ccrumpley@labusinessjournal.com.

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