Microsoft is looking to build upon its impressive lead on the interactive TV front, an area where the software giant has seemingly outmaneuvered rival Google.
To that end, Microsoft announced a slew of new ad partners for its much-ballyhooed ad initiative via Xbox Live, where advertisers can now buy traditional 30-second spots within TV apps running on the platforms. The company made the announcement during its digital ad showcase on Tuesday (April 24).
Among the new partners are ESPN, CBS Interactive Properties GameSpot and Last.fm, as well as Manga Entertainment and MUZU.TV. Those companies join previously announced partners  NBC’s The Today Show, MSNBC, Crackle and UFC.
While companies ranging from Google to the flailing cable industry joint venture Canoe  have attempted to bring interactive/addressable TV to the masses, Microsoft believes it can claim a huge advantage with Xbox advertising—and it probably has a point. The company claims Xbox Live has 40 million active members globally. And Xbox owners have gravitated to the digital living room, Web-connected TV experience faster than perhaps any other media segment.
Xbox and its media partners will be able to sell run of TV apps inventory sometime this summer. It appears clear that Xbox and Xbox Live have become Microsoft's signature digital media offerings. Officials announced Tuesday that Xbox ad dollars have increased 142 percent over the past two years.
Indeed, the new collection of Xbox TV ad partners represented the biggest news coming out of Microsoft’s digital showcase, one of a multitude of upfront-styled events unfolding over this week and next as part of the Digital Content Newfronts  initiative. During a slew of presentations at Tuesday’s event, Microsoft officials didn’t showcase much in the way of original series (as Hulu, YouTube and others are planning), but instead focused on the company’s prowess in branded entertainment. For example, according to Stephen Kim, Microsoft’s gm of global creative solutions, the concert-themed series Live Rising, produced in conjunction with T-Mobile, generated a million views and close to 150,000 Facebook likes in three months last year. More opportunities like it are in the works for this year.
Microsoft execs also listed past high-profile, branded entertainment projects such as In the Motherhood, the sitcom featuring actors such as Chelsea Handler which eventually birthed a network series. MSN doesn’t appear to be planning anything on that scale this year, however.
Among the video series presented at the showcase include Today in the Park, a scripted series about new, more-navigating playground politics; the car-themed reality series Road Raves; and Taste of Place, which follows celebrity chef Donald Link traveling the country in search of some of the best food in the U.S.
MSN has become the official distributor of The LeBrons, the animated series produced by NBA star LeBron James, his company Spring Hill Productions and Believe Entertainment Group. That show is headed for its second season. The portal is also developing the show Kid’s Kitchen, which promises to blend kids cooking, gaming and Xbox Kinect technology.
Beyond video, the company is planning heavy coverage of the Olympics via its Fox Sports partnership. Among the guest commentators for Fox Sports’ planned coverage of the Summer Games in London are former gymnastics star Dominique Dawes and ex-Duke legend Christian Laettner.