Oprah Publicity Stunt Showers Audience With Kinect, Xbox 360s

Beatles Screaming Fans

Yesterday Oprah propelled a bunch of middle-aged women to their feet screaming like Doc Brown had time-warped The Beatles to the stage when she announced her studio audience was going home with Kinect, Microsoft's Xbox 360 motion-sensing camera. That, as well as brand new Xbox 360s in the bargain.

Oprah certainly loves to give stuff away. Cars. Camcorders. Wedding dresses. Credit cards with actual credit. It gets people who wouldn't otherwise pay a lick of attention to pay lots. People like me. Until today, I had no idea she'd recently launched her talk show's fall season by giving each audience member a trip to Australia. An eight-day trip. One that's estimated to cost everyone involved at least $3 million .

It pays to sit in on Oprah, apparently, though it's unclear who's paying whom. The Pontiac G6s she gave away back in 2004 were donated by General Motors. And Australia's tourism minister Martin Ferguson apparently told Reuters the federal and state New South Wales governments would spend more than $3 million to bring The Oprah Winfrey Show to Australia as a way to boost tourism.

Microsoft was able to give away scads of Xbox 360s at E3 this summer. I remember looking around the room at the time and thinking "that's a lot of Xbox 360s" (bracketed in my head, I admit cynically, by the word "payola"). It's one thing to give stuff away to a general audience, in which case you call it a "publicity stunt." It's another entirely when you're handing product out to folks whose job is to objectively cover what you're selling.

Will these women have the Kinect motion camera before we do on November 4? Is eBay about to surge in overpriced video game kit from user accounts like SoccerMom101 and Attractive40YrOld? And will people have to pay income tax on this stuff, like the up to $7,000 each audience member had to fork over (or forfeit their car) back in 2004?

Who knows. But you can't blame Oprah's producers for catching when companies like Microsoft pitch. And remember, weird as that video and venue may seem, Kinect isn't really for you and me. It's for people that watch Oprah, which is kind of the point. People who don't usually play video games but love to play party games. People who probably play the Wii once or twice a week (if that), most often during social gatherings like parties or family get-togethers, then put it away for the remainder.

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