The lines between linear and interactive gaming are blurring: Game Show Network said it will work with Two Way TV Ltd. to produce virtual gaming channels to be integrated across various middleware platforms.
"We're getting our toe into the water," said GSN senior vice president of interactive and online entertainment John Roberts. "This business will be much bigger in the future."
Added GSN senior vice president of distribution Anne Droste: "Operators have been asking for interactive games and now we're in the right place to deliver."
These virtual channels will serve a number of the network's strategies. Firstly, they'll help to showcase the network's programs, driving viewership. They'll also help operators cement the presence of digital set-tops in the home, which suffer from high churn rates.
"The virtual channels are branded channels that allow us to bring game content for niche audiences," Roberts said. "It's a destination for people to play games in our brands."
Added Droste, "The operators have spend so much money, it definitely adds value to their pipe and convinces subscribers of the value of these boxes."
GSN — which is now in 43 million homes, 80 percent of which are analog — is looking for more distribution. It will create virtual channels based on library titles and content from Two Way TV.
The network is now in negotiations with program suppliers "virtual" channel rights, so it didn't release names of specific shows.
Several word and trivia games popular with Two Way's U.K. subscribers could also find their way on to GSN's virtual channels. The two companies shooting to have some games on the market by the third or fourth quarter of this year.
Game Show and Two Way TV plan to work with Wink Communications Inc., Liberate Technologies Inc., Microsoft Corp., Open TV Inc. and Sony Corp. to port the virtual channels to those middleware platforms. Two Way TV will handle much of that integration, Roberts said.
There are about 14 million digital set-tops in the U.S., but few carry software from the traditional middleware players. Roberts said GSN will work with operators on a box-by-box basis, depending their middleware preference.
"We'll have to rebuild this channel for each MSO," he said.
GSN's timing is right, said Droste, because operators are looking at which product to deploy after video-on-demand.
"The VOD strategy is now in place," she said. "Now is the time to start to talk about interactive games."
For years, GSN has offered interactivity in various forms, under the direction of co-owner Sony Pictures Digital Entertainment. Viewers can use play along with televised games over the telephone, and many of GSN's on-air games also have play-along Internet components.
"GSN.com is starting to build original games," Roberts added.
Roberts said it's too soon to tell if the virtual channels themselves will drive direct revenue.
But if the virtual channels — or, as Roberts calls them, "brain candy" — can drive viewers to the main channel, it will be worth it, he said.