Parents often remark that their kids grew up while they were sleeping. Jim Chabin uses the same analogy to describe the gaming business.
“The video game industry has almost overnight gone from a little toddler growing two inches a day and every time you saw him he’d outgrown his clothes to a teenager who is behind the wheel of a car and learning to drive-and I mean that in a positive way,” said Mr. Chabin, the president and CEO of MI6, the interactive marketing conference for the gaming business that runs Tuesday and Wednesday in San Francisco.
If Mr. Chabin’s name sounds familiar, there’s good reason. He’s best known for his work as president and CEO of Promax and the Broadcast Designers Association. The fact that he’s shepherding both a TV-centric conference and a gaming-centric one speaks volumes to the ties the two businesses have sought to foster over the last few years. The links between the two entertainment fields will be among the topics explored at MI6.
In fact, TV and gaming have become more interconnected lately. That bond makes sense on a core level because Xbox and PlayStation-style games are played on a TV set. The ties run even deeper, though, and that’s why the conference will feature several high-level speakers from the television industry. Their presence speaks to commonalities between the two industries: Both are in the entertainment field and both need to put a lot of punch in show or game marketing.
Beyond that, cable networks have experimented with extensions into gaming in recent years. They have stepped up their efforts because gaming attracts the desirable 18 to 34 male demographic that TV also wants to capture. Turner Broadcasting introduced its broadband gaming service GameTap in late 2004, and networks such as GSN, G4 and Spike TV claim thematic connections to gaming.
Other networks offer games on their Web sites. Some, such as Discovery and Lifetime, have even entered the game licensing and publishing businesses. At last month’s E3 conference in Los Angeles, networks sought to join with game publishers to create game-based series. Several gaming companies have introduced titles based on TV shows.
Then there is the gaming format itself. In the past few months, MTV, ESPN, USA and GSN have announced new series based on competitive gaming tournaments, essentially shows in which viewers watch competitors play video games. ESPN’s Madden Bowl is a competitive gaming special, while both USA and GSN will cover gaming tournaments.
The Pursuit of Young Men
Some networks have more at stake. G4’s bread and butter is video games, and Spike TV is in a similar situation, chasing after the same men 18 to 34 demographic that the gaming industry targets. Those networks will have a strong presence at MI6.
Geoff Keighley, host of the weekly “Game Head” series on Spike that covers news in the video game business, will emcee the MI6 conference. Dale Hopkins, chief operating officer of G4, is the conference chairman.
“If you are looking for young guys on TV, you’d better be thinking about video games,” Ms. Hopkins said. “Young guys spend a lot of time playing video games, so TV networks are thinking about video games.”
That includes not just the overall programming ethos at G4 but also recent developments at other networks such as USA and MTV, she said. When G4 launched five years ago, video games weren’t covered in any great depth on other networks. That has changed.
The gaming industry also looks to TV to promote its games. That ranges from traditional advertising to integrations with shows, Ms. Hopkins said.
In addition to pursuing the same audience, Spike TV has made inroads into integrating games into its programming. “We feel that for young guys, gaming is one of the entertainment food groups,” said Dario Spina, senior VP of marketing for Spike TV. “That’s why we invest heavily in the Video Game Awards and have a weekly video game-based show.”
The network’s “Ultimate Fight Night” franchise also has showcased video games in its episodes. “We want to offer more than a 30-second spot, to enhance and build their content into a show in a relevant manner that appeals to our dual audiences,” he said. The show has also included long-form sneak peeks of new game premieres. In addition, Spike has created individual specials tied into video game launches.
Despite the progress that has been made to link gaming and TV, most insiders acknowledge they have yet to find the right formula for a gaming-based series. “We are constantly chipping away at what is sort of a good content model between the two industries,” Mr. Spina said. “There is this desire from the gaming industry and from Spike TV and TV in general to crack the code to figure out a series based on games.
“I think there is an opportunity there and it’s just a matter of time. So things like an MI6 conference [is a chance] for us to listen and learn and hopefully figure out longer-term content partnerships and strategies.”
When: June 27-28, 2006
Where: Moscone Center, San Francisco
What: The inaugural MI6 Conference on the marketing of video games. Topics include media planning, viral marketing, effective point-of-purchase strategies, building consumer awareness and mastering the launch of a game.
Who: The speaker list includes executives from Activision, Midway, Electronic Arts, Xbox, ABC, Ubisoft, Frank N. Magid Associates, Spike TV and Pepsi. Film director Wes Craven is also slated to speak.