"Humans" and "Atari: Game Over" weren't the only project to emerge from the ashes of Microsoft's Xbox Entertainment Studios demise. A little-seen documentary called "The Thread" also survived the fallout, and it was even released for free by Microsoft, though the company only mentioned its availability once.
Microsoft's now-defunct Xbox Entertainment Studios began with grand ambitions when it was formed in 2012, eventually amassing a large slate of TV and movie projects it planned to release on Xbox consoles. "The Thread," a documentary about how Reddit users spread both true and false information about the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 – including erroneously naming a culprit from online images – was released in January as the final finished project from the former Microsoft subsidiary, and it exemplifies the company's strange handling of its video production plans. One notable aspect about "The Thread," for instance, is that it's free on Xbox Live because it was co-produced by Xbox Entertainment Studios.
Another notable aspect? Microsoft apparently didn't want to promote the documentary, as the only time it endorsed "The Thread" was with a single tweet from an ancillary account.
"The Thread" received none of the publicity Microsoft provided to "Atari: Game Over."
The move contrasts starkly with how Microsoft promoted "Atari: Game Over," a heavily publicized documentary released in November about the urban legend of millions of Atari games being buried in the desert. That documentary was supposed to kick off a six-part series, "Signal to Noise," that Microsoft said would look at and dissect "stories of how modern technology has radically altered the way we interact with our world." The entire series was announced as a co-production with Lightbox Entertainment, with "The Thread" as its second installment – until Xbox Entertainment Studios closed in July 2014, that is.
On Oct. 31, following the closure of the subsidiary, Microsoft provided the following statement to the Seattle Times: "Xbox remains committed to airing two of the documentaries produced by Lightbox – 'Atari: Game Over' and 'The Thread' (working title). Stay tuned for release dates and tune-in information for both films."
Microsoft never formally announced the production of "The Thread" on any of its Xbox websites, however, and it never publicized the documentary until it was available. The only publicity afforded to "The Thread" was when the Entertainment for Xbox account tweeted the documentary's trailer and a link to its Xbox Video store listing on Feb. 2. The tweet apparently didn't gain much traction, as the film has only been rated on the Xbox Video store three times since it was released. No other Microsoft account on Twitter promoted the film, and the Entertainment for Xbox tweet was only retweeted seven times and favorited five times.
Though both "Atari: Game Over" and "The Thread" were released for free on Xbox Video as originally planned, they are now also available for purchase on competing digital video outlets. On iTunes, for instance, "The Thread" costs $10, as it was released by distributor Content Media on rival platforms in the U.S., U.K., Canada and Ireland.
The lackluster release of "The Thread" marked the unspectacular ending of Microsoft's grand plans for original content production at its own studios. Instead of attempting to compete with the likes of major Hollywood studios and Netflix to create original content, Microsoft has since chosen to rely on third-party content for its consoles. Regular TV channels can be accessed by using Xbox One and Kinect to link to cable, satellite and broadcast services, while streaming options range from Microsoft's own Xbox Video service to Netflix, Hulu and Vudu.
Microsoft is sticking with third-party content for its Xbox video offerings.
Projects Xbox Entertainment Studios actually completed can be counted on one hand, as only two other original shows and a live broadcast joined "Atari: Game Over" and "The Thread" as its output. The only stand-alone show it released was the soccer reality series "Every Street United," and "Halo: Nightfall" launched as part of the "Halo: The Master Chief Collection" Xbox One game. In addition to original content, Xbox Entertainment Studios also exclusively streamed the Bonnaroo music festival to all its Xbox 360 and Xbox One users last June.
Reports claimed Microsoft attempted to sell Xbox Entertainment Studios to Warner Brothers, though an agreement never came to fruition. When asked about the subsidiary's final days, a Microsoft spokeswoman confirmed Xbox Entertainment Studios officially closed shortly after layoffs were announced on July 17, 2014, with a small staff winding down in-development projects and game developer 343 Industries leading the remaining work on "Halo: Nightfall." Microsoft declined to comment on the status of any of its former video projects, though it's known that a new Halo TV series produced by Steven Spielberg is still planned.
The release of additional shows or documentaries from Microsoft seems unlikely, unless they're made by partners or tie in with major company-owned franchises. For Xbox owners, there's always memories of spectacular promises about TV content from the Xbox One's announcement – and two free documentaries, even if Microsoft hardly acknowledges one.