E³ Showcase: L.A. Expo Lures TV to the Game

May 16, 2005  •  Post A Comment

About 65,000 people, including many representatives of the television industry, will descend on the Los Angeles Convention Center to check out the latest in games May 17 when the three-day annual E³ expo kicks off.

E³ is considered the premier gaming convention, featuring all the latest demonstrations of must-have games, but this year many companies in the television business also will check out the convention. That’s because TV is getting friendlier with games for many reasons, and content companies, including ESPN, GSN, Fuse and Turner, plan to attend the show.

TV is getting involved in games on several levels, including licensing, online games and subscription broadband games, said Mike Goodman, an analyst with The Yankee Group.

Online and console games derived from TV shows and networks can be a method of brand extension. In some cases they represent an additional revenue stream. Some networks have even begun to license characters and shows for games, such as ESPN with poker and sports trivia games and Discovery Channel with “Monster Garage” and “American Chopper.”

Also, cable operators are building incremental revenue with subscription interactive TV games, while video-on-demand technologists such as SeaChange plan to introduce platforms to offer games on-demand.

In addition, broadband penetration has risen quickly, creating a platform for a robust online gaming experience. Turner Broadcasting System for instance, has become the poster child for broadband games since it announced last month a new subscription game service GameTap, Mr. Goodman said. GameTap is slated for an October launch.

ESPN is also entering the broadband space with games and will introduce a new game-“Ultimate Baseball Online”-to its broadband service ESPN360 and ESPN.com this month.

The gaming opportunities differ depending on the stake-whether programming or distribution-the player has in the TV business. But there clearly are many ways for TV entities to grab land in the gaming arena, Mr. Goodman said.

“Gaming has really been expanding for the last few years and it’s growing in multiple ways,” he said. “Most people think adolescent males, and that’s not the whole market. Console games appeal to young adults; PC games is older males; Internet games is female.” What’s more, mobile phone companies are also beginning to deliver games to their customers.

E³, in its 11th year, is produced by the Entertainment Software Association, the trade organization for game publishers. ESA said that more than 5,000 computer and video games and related products will debut at the show. Of those, more than 4,000 will be available to consumers by the holiday season. The top three categories are action/adventure, role-playing games and sports/ driving/racing games.

The role of TV in the gaming space isn’t yet a topic that will percolate to panel level at the show. Nevertheless, here’s an overview of how the TV industry is getting friendly with gamers.

  • Turner’s GameTap is a broadband entertainment network that will offer games on demand when it launches in the fall. Turner will demonstrate the service at the show. GameTap has licensed nearly 1,000 games from 17 publishers. At launch, the service will feature more than 300 games, with five to 10 new games added each week.

    Turner is not looking to GameTap as a brand extension for any of its networks; rather GameTap is Turner’s attempt to create a new brand solely for broadband, said Dennis Quinn, executive VP of business development for Turner. “We look at this as a great way to go out and license the great titles in the video games business from PCs, consoles and bring them all together under one platform,” he said.

  • ESPN has begun moving into the broadband games business too and planned to launch on May 12 a beta trial of its “Ultimate Baseball Online” game on its ESPN360 broadband service and its Web site, said Tanya Van Court, VP and general manager of ESPN Broadband and interactive television. “Ultimate Baseball Online” is a “massively multiplayer game” that lets users practice their batting, pitching and fielding in a 9-on-9 style of interactive baseball.

    ESPN360 and ESPN.com will begin offering the game on a monthly subscription basis July 2.

  • Cablevision introduced last month a new user interface that includes an updated interface for the operator’s interactive TV games. Cablevision rolled out subscription games last year and now counts about 20,000 subscribers at $4.95 per month playing about 1 million games per month. Cablevision also offers the games on a $1.95 play-per-day model. The offering includes familiar games like “Tetris” and “Asteroids” as well as mind puzzles and casino games.

  • Discovery released its first “American Chopper” video game for the Xbox, PC and PlayStation 2 late last year and plans to release an updated version for this holiday season. With the game, users can create a bike, ride a bike and maneuver through obstacles, said Michael Malone, VP of domestic licensing for Discovery. The new version will include more features on creating a bike. Games provide a way to extend content out to fans to let the consumers “live the shows,” he said. Discovery has also created a PC game for TLC’s “Trading Spaces.”

  • GSN already offers game extensions for most of its shows online. John Roberts, the network’s senior VP of interactive entertainment, said he’ll be at E³ to check out new technologies, players and opportunities for GSN. In particular, GSN wants to develop an online game in conjunction with its upcoming July launch of its new billiards show, “Ball Breakers.” GSN also wants to develop games for cellphones. “The distribution of games is becoming platform- and device-agnostic. You can play through a cable box or console; you can play them on mobile phones. Content creators are looking to extend their brands,” he said.

  • Fuse said it will begin offering PlayStation Portable users free downloadable content this week via the Fusetv.com Web site. That includes video snippets of shows such as “The Daily Download,” “Uranium” and “Steven’s Untitled Rock Show.” The videos can be downloaded and viewed on-demand. The content isn’t games, but it’ll be shown on a gaming platform.