Nancy Tellem has quite the career portfolio. Originally starting out as an undergraduate at the University of California Berkeley, she eventually earned a doctorate in Law at the California Hastings College of Law. From there, she worked as a legal expert on F. Lee Bailey's 1982 series Lie Detector, moving to work on Wheel of Fortune before becoming a legal counsel for Lorimar Television.
That last career was where she truly began to shine. Eventually, Lorimar merged with Warner Brothers Television, with Tellem being named as Executive Vice President of Business and Financial Affairs. From there, she continued performing to such a high degree that CBS President Leslie Moonves named her his successor. In 1998, Tellem moved to the head of the organization. Her actions there earned her third place in Entertainment Weekly's list of the 25 smartest people in TV.
Now, she's brought her entertainment expertise to Microsoft, where she's president of the entertainment and digital media department. According to Tellem, she was attracted to the organization because of her years at CBS and CW, where she closely monitored how content was changing websites and how people interacted with that content.
"I was always looking for the next thing," she explained to Variety. "Technology and the transition that was taking place was incredibly interesting to me. It's very exciting for me to be in this position right now and see how the business model evolves and how content evolves."
Currently, Tellem is overseeing development on a host of original content Microsoft has planned for Xbox Live TV, including a new Halo series produced by none other than Stephen Spielberg. She admits that this has taken far longer than she'd like. Development, she admits, is a bit slower than she's used to. "We're hoping we will be able to put something up in the first quarter, at minimum second quarter," Tellem explained to Variety. "Development has been slow, but reflecting on what we've done and what lies ahead, it's been pretty good."
The slow speed of development is very likely tied to the unique challenges with the content's presentation. Xbox is an odd duck, one which doesn't really fit into either the world of old media or that of digital entertainment platforms. This has made explaining the nature of Xbox TV to Hollywood a daunting task.
"We aren't Netflix, we aren't Amazon, we're a different animal," Tellem continued. "We're neither or we're a little like them. It all depends. The lack of black and white and this is the template and this is what we're following is very difficult. As we continue to do deals, everyone's going to get more comfortable."
Part of the challenge lies in figuring out what business models and show formats will work, and what sort of tactics will resonate with Xbox's audience. The Xbox TV platform is completely new ground for most of Hollywood, incorporating interactive features, new show formats and an audience for which there's virtually no demographic information.
"Depending on the piece of content, the deals change. We're talking about exclusives, exclusive first windows, exclusive second windows. We play a lot with windows and co-production arrangements; whether we feel these are ideas or franchise building we can own completely."
For original content, continues Tellem, "we're trying to focus whether it's only on Xbox or best on Xbox. If a show doesn't resonate, interactive features won't matter." For her part, Tellem is enjoying the challenges before her, noting that Hollywood and the Technology Industry are finally starting to understand one another, and the value they can offer each other.
"We're in this amazing time where these two worlds are coming together. It's only now that we're getting comfortable with each other. Everyone recognizes how important content is in device adoption. There's always talk about what apps are available on your phone or what apps you can get. It can be an incentive to buy something or not to buy something."
Another challenge Tellem has been faced with is trimming the fat that's often associated with traditional content creation.
"We're here to support the artists and the talent," Tellem noted. "We don't have the layers traditional media has. Our studio is very lean, which allows us to be a lot more nimble and have a direct relationship with talent and help them realize their vision...The content and what we're building will be an important part of our future."