(originally posted on Gamesplayeddaily.com. Slightly edited from the original posting)
Digital content is surging in popularity and gaming channels are trying their hand at the hearts of the masses...again.
Recently, gamers have seen the return of G4TV as well as the launch (and fall) of the new gaming entertainment channel Venn.tv. Pushed as digital channels more than network TV, these offerings of gaming culture news, comedy, tips, and interviews beg the question, “Will they survive this time?” While only time can offer the answer, let’s see how this may or may not work.
Gaming culture as it stands is more dynamic than it has ever been. With gaming becoming a lot more mainstream, the ‘definition’ of being a gamer is certainly being changed within the minds of those in entertainment. Game live streaming is surging in a way that is forging all new revenue streams and opportunities for those who initially saw gaming as a hobby. Now, there are full time streamers that can make millions a year. While making millions as a full time Twitch.tv streamer is rare, the appeal and possibility is one that has basically assisted Youtubers in reducing the reach of gaming journalists. Gaming streamers are entertainers that build their own fanbase oftentimes with very little production value to support them.
At any given time, viewers have access to hundreds if not thousands of entertaining streamers that are live playing new and retro games and interacting with their viewers in real time. Toss in the occasional game where chat can affect the game the streamer is playing and you have an interactive experience unlike anything that network TV could ever produce with a studio.
In the days before streaming was accessible, the gaming community had outlets like Machinima and G4TV to congregate around and feed off of. Each outlet had their own shows and offerings that basically celebrated gaming culture, gaming tournaments, gaming news, and gaming related entertainment.
There were other smaller outlets as well that grew via Youtube and podcasting that have managed to sustain decent followings as well. As we see more and more Youtubers like Logan Paul, Liza Koshy, and Markiplier find their way into mainstream outlets and projects, it is quickly becoming clear that regular network TV is losing 'eyeballs' to streaming channels and social media.
Gaming and game culture is in the midst of a renaissance. With indie gaming surging and streamers making sponsorship deals with devs, tech companies, and more, traditional methods of reaching a viewership have and continue to evolve.
All of the sudden, in Aug. of 2020, VennTV hit the scene with heavy hitter support "from industry notables such as Riot Games co-founder Marc Merrill, Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin, Blizzard Entertainment co-founder Mike Morhaime, and aXiomatic Gaming, which owns the esports franchise Team Liquid and has a stake in Epic Games." as stated by the Washington Post. Their flashy new studio was crafted to be the foundation for elevating select creators by giving them production resources and "curating it onto our network in a formatted window, and making it into a TV format." said VENN co-founder, Ariel Horn to The Washington Post.
Unfortunately, a year or so into this venture, VennTV has changed directions, laidoff a number of their staff, and suspended production to 'retool'. It is hard to tell if they are returning or plan to return, but it is clear that the content they produced was either too niche, not promoted effectively, or both.
Not too long after VennTV took its timeout, G4 returned as well. Its initial incarnation was fun and problematic all in the same breath so many wonder what G4 is or will do that will make their run any different than VennTV's. To keep things short and sweet, G4TV was originally built (back in 2002) around the demographic of gaming being only for young white males. While it was birthed from a more innocent TechTV framework that was valuable, but not that entertaining, it still had a sizable cult following that transcended race and gender for that matter. Thankfully, that fandom still exists allowing for this new incarnation of G4TV to return.
For these outfits to succeed, they must do want their predecessors tried and failed to do. They must make and show gaming as popular culture. This means the content they produce has to go beyond merely gameplay and focus on ‘entertaining’.
It's very clear that streaming networks and network TV have yet to figure out the appeal of Twitch.tv streamer popularity as well as Youtubers. VennTV and G4TV both realize that they can't just plug streamers into a multi-million dollar studio and let them stream rudderless content.
VennTV was trying to become the new MTV yet failed to realize that Youtube already holds that spot. In the year they pushed content, very little of what they did stood out from other existing outlets such as Cheddar, other Esports Youtube outlets, or other streamers in general. Unfortunately, the audiences that followed the hosts that they employed didn't come in droves.
G4, on the other hand, is leaning on a bit of nostalgia to bring back their previous audience as well as welcome a younger one. They also have banked upon the model of taking Youtubers and magnifying their reach with network show styled production value. Sprinkle in some Esports hosts that have a bit of comedic chops and you have an updated, and much more diverse, version of what G4 had. While each of these hosts clearly are talented and ooze personality, it still remains to be seen whether their content is reaching the masses.
In both ventures, the issue is how to provide content that is as approachable as a Youtuber or Twitch.tv streamer. Twitch personalities manage to build their communities with interactions, reactions, and real-time events that often play out as a 'best kept secret' or 'hooray for the little guy' vibe. Youtubers, on the other hand, creatively use editing to condense their personality, their comedy, and their appeal in ways that mainstream outlets can't recreate.
Ultimately, it seems that VennTV and G4TV are doomed until they find a way to appeal to casual and non-gamers. The shows need to stop trying to appeal to core gamers and try to appeal to casual TV watchers. They need to take the few moments that gaming culture hits mainstream and find a way to embellish on them.
For example, X-play (their game review show) should probably stray away from the show being game reviews and lean harder into being a more game journalism show. They should have VICE media level research and writing to delve into gaming topics, issues, and culture. That way, when an Activision/Blizzard scandal drops, they can hop right in and get boots (or hosts) on the ground doing interviews and having discussions on what it happening. This way, other outlets and shows will want to lean upon their content to explore or research what is REALLY happening in the gaming world.
Their Attack of the Show model leans heavily on being almost like gaming's version of SNL. While Kevin Pereira is the face of the show as it is, the evolution of the show seems as if it will live or die by the guests their able to bring on the show. Maybe if they leaned a bit harder into the SNL model, they might have something.
The Esports show named BOOSTED, while it is already cancelled, suffered from not really being able to 'report' on Esports with footage from the events they wanted to cover. Esports is a hard sell for mainstream viewership so covering it definitely requires an extreme level of creativity to warrant a weekly show dedicated to it. Honestly, if the show wanted more casual eyes, they probably would need to lean more into tips, how-to's, strategies, and ways to enter and promote the industry. Still, having a weekly Esports focused show that appeals to casuals is a near impossible task.
G4's other shows also present a decent idea for them to continue as well. Gaming culture now incorporates so many other avenues that are essentially geek culture. Anime, tabletop gaming, comics, and cosplay are all geek culture realms that it is clear G4 (and VennTV) want to capitalize on.
G4's Invitation to Party was a grand experiment that basically mimics what others are currently doing on Youtube. While the reception was decent, they should probably lean harder into D&D Live sessions they had where celebs played a session of D&D.
Another avenue that is surprising hasn't been recreated for TV is Wil Wheaton's Tabletop show from Geek & Sundry. With the explosion of tabletop games coming out, a show like this with celebrity guests on either network seems as if it would be a great idea. That way each show could double as a 'how-to-play' for the game along with the example of people playing. This way casuals will tune it to see the celeb on top of see what the game is all about. Not certain if this is a good way to get Magic The Gathering on TV, but it sure is a shot in the dark!
Lastly, it is very surprising that neither channel is REALLY learning from some things gaming Youtubers are doing. Oftentimes Youtubers will do a multi-episodic playthru of a game and then cleverly edit the footage as they 'over-react' or babble their way through the gameplay. While this may not be a great format for TV, there are some variations of this formula that could work.
Channels like NEEB's Gaming oftentimes will take a familiar or popular game and issue a challenge or load an interest mod. G4's Austin Creed did a version of this with his own Youtube channel called 'Battle of the Brands'. Essentially, the idea is to use clever editing and a challenge with stakes to have the hosts half play the game and half role-play as they try to win. This format allows the game to shine as well as spotlights each of the hosts' personality. Survival games seem to be the best to apply to this format but other games (sports management sims maybe) I'm certain could be used as well.
G4 is obviously struggling with many of the problems that VennTV faced, but one thing is for certain, the network TV format is consumed very different than the streaming world. The bridge between these worlds seems to be quite large when it comes to the gaming community. There will undoubtedly need to be a monumental personality or show that will usher in a new model for network TV gaming culture to grow and flourish.
Here's to hoping it comes before we lose the few attempts at a breakthrough that we currently have.