Don't Touch That Dial, or That TiVo
GSN uses games and interactivity to lock in viewers
By George Winslow -- Broadcasting & Cable, 5/8/2005 8:00:00 PM
When Rich Cronin took the top job at the Game Show Network four years ago, he knew where the future was: in interactive-game playing. Quickly, he found John Roberts, a true interactive visionary, and gave him his VP stripes.
“People have always been interacting with game shows, shouting out the answers,” says Roberts, who previously worked on pioneering interactive projects for Fox Family Worldwide and for Paul Allen's Vulcan Programming II. “We felt that, with our content, if we couldn't make interactivity work, you couldn't make interactivity work anywhere.”
Since then, things have changed at the network, which was once programmed primarily with reruns of classic game shows.
Today, the network has a new name, GSN, and while it still beams classic game shows, GSN now offers a slew of new original programming during prime time, including a number of casino-themed shows with interactive hooks. This year, GSN will be launch a dozen shows, including its first casino “awards show.”
Interactive Elements in Advertising
That interactivity push meshes with GSN's two owners, Sony and Liberty Media, which have been making many investments in interactive entertainment.
Some of GSN's most interesting interactivity efforts aren't programs at all. The network created about 50 spots for advertisers, including General Motors and Burger King, that feature interactive elements designed to encourage online users—and discourage viewers from tuning out. Online players who can answer questions about the ad are given points that can eventually add up to discounts on merchandise.
“That gives them an incentive to watch the spots and helps make us about as TiVo-proof as possible,” Cronin says.
Getting viewers involved
Roberts estimates that 80%-85% of those who are playing along online as they watch the show end up watching the whole commercial.
Advertisers have also been using the interactive elements to ask the users questions about their product. This gives advertisers another advantage: valuable marketing information.
GSN seems sincere about its interactive future. Just last month, at the NCTA Show, the network announced that it is expanding the amount of programming that has online interactive elements all the way—gradually expanding them from 12 hours a day to 19 hours this month.
During the development process of new shows, interactive elements are added early on so viewers of original fare like Celebrity Blackjack can play along online, accumulating points that can be used for discounts on Sony merchandise and other rewards. Online games have even been developed for the classic game shows GSN has acquired from outside suppliers.
“It gives people a whole new reason to watch shows that have already aired,” Roberts says.
Currently, GSN has about 2.7 million registered users at its Web site, with 3%-5% of its viewers playing GSN games online while watching its programming on TV, Roberts estimates.
Last year, the network also started GSNi, an iTV application on Time Warner Cable's system in Hawaii. It allows viewers to play games using their TV remote while watching the network, and that is clearly the broadband future GSN awaits.
The experiment has dramatically increased both the number of viewers and their involvement. Roberts notes that viewership has increased more than 300% among cable homes in Hawaii since GSN began heavily promoting the feature earlier this year and that 10%-15% of viewers watching there are using their TV remotes to play along with GSN programming.
As operators deploy interactive-TV services more widely, Cronin argues, the GSNi interactive application will be a valuable application, especially as new-generation cable boxes make interactivity common. “It is a perfect fit for our programming.”
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