Gaming and TV Get Together at E3

May 15, 2006  •  Post A Comment

At last week’s Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, the exhibit floor seemed a bit like a cable convention.

MTV Networks, making its debut appearance at the show, showed up with a flashy display. Nearby, an exhibit by Turner’s GameTap touted that company’s broadband gaming service and burgeoning video content. Milling about the floor were executives from GSN, Spike TV and naturally, video game network G4, which had a massive booth in the lobby.

As ties continue to grow between the gaming industry and television networks, brands courting younger demographics flocked to the world’s largest convention of game publishers. Deals between producers and networks and game publishers were announced daily on a show floor whose exhibits were so spectacular they made the average television industry conference look like a parking lot swap meet.

The types of deals fostered at E3 generally fell into four categories:

  • Programming: Networks partnering with gaming publishers to produce new video game series.

  • Tie-Ins: Software titles that expand the world of an existing series. At E3, game publisher THQ announced a “Sopranos” game and last month Buena Vista Games announced a “Desperate Housewives” title.

  • Acquisitions: Network conglomerates gobbling up players in the gaming space, such as MTV’s acquisition two weeks ago of game server browser Xfire for a reported $102 million.

  • Broadband gaming: TV network Web sites featuring “casual games”-low-tech puzzle games that, unlike most console video games, appeal to women more than men. For example, Lifetime’s game site has brought 500,000 unique visitors per month.

    “Television and gaming are on a parallel course, both working for a more immersive video experience,” said Karen Lennon, founder of BeyondZ Interactive Media. “Are the industries colliding? Absolutely.”

    Popularity Contest

    The reasons for the synergistic collision are as varied as the types of deals inked. The explosive popularity of gaming, particularly among younger demographics, is a top factor.

    “Gaming attracts an attractive demographic and everybody wants a piece of it in some way, shape or form,” said one E3 attendee-Comcast Network Advertising Sales President Dave Cassaro.

    Another is the much-hyped new media explosion, which has expanded the mandate for many networks to embrace a multiplatform approach to packaging content.

    The latter factor has pushed more networks into supplementing their broadband content with “sticky” games on their Web sites. A few such projects have been announced in recent weeks. For instance, last week VH1 announced an online gaming site featuring VH1-branded titles such as “Escape the Paparazzi.”

    Though the Web site can generate revenue by offering some of the games for purchase, the point of adding games is mainly to keep viewers involved with the VH1 brand.

    “Our dream is to become a 24/7 lifestyle brand,” said Jeff Yapp, executive VP of MTV Networks Music Group. “Why would we want to lose our audience to AOL Games when we can keep them in the VH1 brand?”

    By contrast, Turner’s GameTap, launched last year, is first and foremost a revenue generating model. The site has more than 500 games that can be accessed by users who pay a $9.95 per month subscriber fee. The service has also added 300 short videos of G4-like gamer-related content under the brand GameTap TV.

    Stuart Snyder, GameTap’s general manager, said the service is in talks with cable operators to expand GameTap TV to video-on-demand, or even onto a linear channel.

    “All networks are looking at opportunities in gaming at this point,” Mr. Snyder said. “Though some are doing it simply to be defensive, better to do something in the gaming space before somebody else does it.”