MSOs are already looking over one shoulder at the Web as a formidable competitor for customers' attention, time and revenue. Now, they may have to look over the other shoulder at the video-game industry.
According to The Video Game Handbook, a study by Nielsen PreView, Americans used their Wiis, Xboxes and PlayStations for a total of 64 billion minutes in December. Dubbing the video-game industry “the fifth network,” the report says U.S. consumers spent more time pushing joysticks to kill aliens and zombies or control Kobe Bryant's every move than they did watching every individual cable network and all but four of the top broadcast networks.
The good thing for the cable industry is that video-game users are also avid television viewers. The study reports that heavy video-game users — those who play MLB: The Show and such for 93 minutes per day — still consumed a healthy 230 hours of television during fourth-quarter 2008. That number also correlates to lighter video-game players. Consumers continue to push the remote-control button and view television in record volumes, even as they also spend more time pushing controller buttons.
Also, primetime for video games is 7 p.m., so Joe Gamer can get his fill of Halo 3 before turning on the television to catch The Closer, Burn Notice or other top cable shows during the height of primetime, 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. Advertisers looking to reach video-game aficionados can do so while still hitting their targeted television audience, according to the report.
The concern for cable operators is that video-game consoles are not just for game play anymore. You can download episodes of Sci Fi Channel's Ghost Hunters and USA Network's Monk via PlayStation 3 consoles, or Nickelodeon's iCarly and Disney Channel's Hannah Montana from your XBox 360.
While the report did not break out time spent watching TV cable and movie services on video-game platforms, it's clear video games make up the lion's share of time spent on those consoles.
Nevertheless, as the amount of time consumed through such consoles increases, inevitably so will the amount of cable content that's watched. It's just another platform that MSOs have to compete with for viewers' eyeballs.
Undoubtedly, there will be a spirited discussion during the The Cable Show this week about the business ramifications surrounding the proliferation of free cable-network content streamed on the Web. But as the industry tries to figure out the best business model to reach consumers with their quality content over various screens, it should also keep an eye on the fast growing video-game business.
With more prospective cable subscribers already entrenched in video games, and with gaming consoles becoming a more complete and content-inclusive home-entertainment portal, it may soon be game on for cable.