Rainbow Plans Game Channel

Mar 20, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Rainbow Media is set to announce this week Gameplay HD, a new high-definition, video game-themed cable network, as part of its Voom suite.

The move introduces a brand competitor to Comcast-owned gamer net G4 into the multichannel universe and marks the return of online media company CNET to television programming.

CNET will produce at least two series for the new channel, including a title that will serve as an extension of its popular Gamespot.com news and review Web site.

“We saw an opportunity to showcase the artistry of video games in high definition,” said Greg Moyer, general manager of Voom HD Networks. “All the Xbox 360 and upcoming PlayStation 3 titles are coming out in HD, which we think is going to be a serious incentive for gamers to invest in HD sets. I can’t imagine a more appropriate way to celebrate HD than to launch this channel.”

The service, which will debut this month, will feature programming consisting of gamer news, original series and specials and coverage of gaming tournaments. Gameplay is seeking to distinguish itself from G4, which embraces a “gamer lifestyle” brand that encompasses programming such as anime and extreme sports and has struggled to gain broad viewership. By contrast, Gameplay will stick to games, gamers and gaming competitions.

G4 executives did not return requests for comment.

“We think we’re carving out a distinctive niche in the marketplace,” Mr. Moyer said. “It’s all about the games. It’s not about the lifestyle of gamers or the demo of gamers.”

Having ties with CNET will certainly help. CNET’s GameSpot brand is one of the pre-eminent gaming review sites, which among fickle gamers could lend the network credibility. G4 has struggled to improve its reputation online as being something greater than part of the corporation that swallowed beloved geek fiefdom TechTV.

In the late 1990s CNET produced tech-related series for Sci Fi Channel such as “CNET Central,” “The Web” and “The New Edge.” Later, its technology program “News.com” aired on CNBC but was canceled in 2001.

For Gameplay, CNET will produce “GameSpotting,” a half-hour news and review series based on the GameSpot site, and “CinemAddicts,” an hour series condensing epic video game cut scenes into a singular cohesive story.

Keith Bencher, VP of strategy and development for CNET’s games and entertainment division, said he’s confident his company can successfully program a historically difficult niche.

“GameSpot has been the authoritative voice of games and information for nearly a decade. Our users vote every day whether the content on the pages is what they want or not,” Mr. Bencher said. “We know this demographic and have ideas we want to transfer to TV programming.”

Other planned programs include coverage of competitions such as the Global Gaming League Tournament and the Blizzard Worldwide Invitational Tournament. Though previous televised efforts to portray multiplayer gaming have struggled to attract viewers, Gameplay is confident it will win fans.

But industry insiders questioned whether the market is ready for a second gamer network, especially as part of the Voom suite.

“The idea of a channel about games, unless there’s going to be lot of full-screen shots of the game itself … and even if there is, I’m not sure there’s enough value proposition there, said Todd Chanko, an analyst with JupiterResearch.