CBS veteran Nancy Tellem’s leap to Microsoft, where she will head up entertainment content, was more like an inching, tortoise-like crawl, individuals close to the situation told TheWrap.
Negotiations have been dragging on for most of this year, and I’m told reliably that the press release for her to be president of entertainment and digital media, which went out on Monday, was first prepared back in July.
Why the slow-go? Apparently Tellem was not sure she wanted the gig, and Microsoft was forever recalibrating its own excitement about a content-creating strategy.
The lack of enthusiasm on both sides may not bode well for Tellem’s new tenure at a Redmond, Wash.-based technology company, with its very different culture from the hard-charging, fast-lane broadcast world of CBS.
“She will not be cranking out shows in prime time,” one person familiar with her new role told TheWrap. “This is a software and device company. This is not a job aching to be filled.”
Tellem did not respond to an email seeking comment, and a Microsoft spokesman said she was not immediately available for interview.
Tellem’s role, reporting to Microsoft Studios Vice President Phil Spencer, will be to create content under the umbrella of the game division at Microsoft, the “creative” sector of the company.
Buried in Monday’s release is the key distinction that she is tasked with making interactive narrative content that will be able to use new technology that actively involves the viewer over Xbox, like the Kinect.
"I look forward to building a studio team that embraces the challenges of creating true interactive content that the Xbox platform supports and to work with talent to create content that will change the way entertainment content is experienced and delivered,” she said.
Yet this technology is still very unproven, and as one insider put it, there is no evidence yet that consumers will line up to interact with their dramas or comedy series.
It seems that hiring Tellem was the priority of Don Mattrick, president of interactive entertainment business at Microsoft. The technology giant has taken a beating in the PR world this year with the crushing dominance of Apple, the fast moves of Amazon and the perception that under CEO Steve Ballmer the company has lost its edge.
It certainly makes sense for Microsoft to think about making content. Xbox is one of the largest distribution systems for content of all kinds – games, movies and television.
But it’s not clear that Microsoft knew what they were hiring in Tellem; she is a top-notch business executive, capable of leading a dynamic and fast-moving television organization. She ran the network, as well as overseeing cbs.com. But she came up through business affairs, not programming.
And it seems that Microsoft doesn’t have a real strategic mission for Tellem to embrace. “They’re looking to her to figure that out,” says the individual with knowledge of her new role.
If she fails, Microsoft's culture is not exactly a forgiving one. (I refer you to the description in Vanity Fair of a brutal review process that has driven many talented executives out of the company.) Company insiders suggest she has about two years to deliver – whatever it is they decide she needs to deliver.
Either she's bring her magic touch from her years at CBS or she'll flame out. In any event, said the individual, "She’s got a couple of years.”