PlayJam gets its game face on in U.S. cable market

Nov 26, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Darts, slots and sex have proved to be a winning combination for London-based PlayJam. The interactive games channel, which launched in the United States for the first time with Cablevision Systems Corp. this fall, has found that its most popular games-darts, slots and Lover’s Guide, the last being a card game that provides sex tips when you answer questions correctly-are quite simple and for the most part self-explanatory. All three games are played using a remote control.
The channel is produced by Static 2358, a wholly owned subsidiary of interactive TV company OpenTV, based in Mountain View, Calif. PlayJam first went on the air in France in October 2000. It launched in the United Kingdom last December. The service reaches more than 9 million homes in Europe, with carriage on digital systems including BSkyB, NTL, Telewest, TPS and Canalsatellite. During the nine-month period starting last December, more than 1.2 billion games were played on PlayJam.
The channel offers six games at any one time from a library of about 170 and rotates the games twice a week based on popularity, user input and new products, said Jeff Zie, channel head for PlayJam. “If you have too many [at one time] they cannibalize each other and there’s no demand,” he said.
Cablevision is the first U.S. operator to introduce the channel and has done so as part of its rollout of digital services to its 3 million New York metro-area customers that began in September with a launch in western Long Island. “Games are particularly important because ITV research shows games are one of the most sticky types of applications and easy to understand,” said Brian Sweeney, senior VP, e-media, for Cablevision. “Games are a good intro to interactivity and to interacting with the box.”
According to industry research from PlayJam competitor Two Way TV on the use of interactive games, nearly 50 percent of digital subscribers who used interactive services used games. That compares with 18 percent for shopping and 9 percent for Internet access. Two Way TV is based in London.
PlayJam fluctuates among the top 10 to 15 digital channels each week, according to the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board, the United Kingdom’s equivalent of Nielsen, Mr. Zie said. Each week 1.8 million individual viewers tuned in to PlayJam an average of four times each on BSkyB’s service.
Some games are free, some are pay-to-play, and all games have prizes attached. To be eligible for a prize, users must register, Mr. Zie said.
PlayJam counts nearly 700,000 registered users in the United Kingdom. The company gives away about 2,000 prizes each month. PlayJam’s success overseas and the recent Cablevision deal are good indications the channel has potential in the United States, said Vladimir Edelman, a senior partner with Filter Media in New York, an interactive TV consulting firm.
However, any ITV game channel will face some regulatory hurdles in the United States because gaming is regulated by each state when prizes are awarded, he said. Cablevision has circumvented those issues for the time being since it does not offer prizes with PlayJam games. Currently, all PlayJam games are free on Cablevision. The offering includes simple card games, trivia and word searches, Mr. Sweeney said.
The Two Way TV channel is a mix of quizzes, word puzzles and board game-type challenges. It is available on Telewest, NTL and other platforms in the United Kingdom and has also been deployed in Australia, Israel and Portugal. According to the company, 30 percent of households on NTL have played the channel and 66 percent of those come back to play again. About 8 million customers in the United Kingdom have access to TwoWay TV, which recently opened an office in Los Angeles to prepare for U.S. deployments.