GSN Expands Interactivity Through Synched Content

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Interactive television is alive and well at Game Show Network. The programmer forged ahead with new, synched-to-broadcast interactive PC features in 2002, as interactivity became a core part of the GSN experience.

"We had 15 hours of interactive programming, and now we have 55 hours a week," said senior vice president of interactive and online entertainment John Roberts.

The network's database of interactive users rose from 100,000 to nearly 700,000 by year-end, and more than 30 companies are producing interactive ads, he noted.

The appetite has been whetted to the point at which GSN is talking to Xbox owner Microsoft Corp. and PlayStation2 (which, like the network is owned by Sony Corp.) about developing interactive games for those console platforms, according to Roberts.

GSN has also started to develop a business plan for offering gaming content geared toward cable-modem platforms.

"Online gaming is here," Roberts said. "When we launched the new Lingo, we added a broadband game. The debut got four times the amount of traffic of any game. We had to buy an additional server just to host the online Lingo
game."

GSN launched its interactive fare with Russian Roulette. With the addition of Greed, Whammy! The All New Press Your Luck, Lingo
and WinTuition, it now carries 55 hours a week of synched-to-TV interactive content.

As viewers watch a game on TV, they can go online and use their PCs to both play along and compete with others.

"We're using on-air to talk about everything that is interactive," Roberts said. "We're doing a weekly sweepstakes with 60 prizes a week," including Sony DVD players, games, shirts and hats, he said.

Roberts said 88 percent of the interactive audience is aged 18 to 49, and 32 percent of that group falls between 18 and 24 years of age. Thirty percent of the interactive constituency is 25 to 34 years old, while the 35-to-49 set makes up another 26 percent.

Overall, these viewers have helped GSN to skew younger, he said.

"We have interactive blocks that go from one show to another," Roberts said.

GSN has started to add interactive trivia questions to traditional stalwarts, like its 1970s and 80s vintage repeats of Family Feud
and Match Game.

TiVo-proof

Roberts said the average interactive user plays online for 25 minutes per session, roughly the length of one program. That retention factor helps GSN pitch to advertisers wary of digital video recorders.

GSN and its sponsors sprinkle questions within the on-air ads to keep viewers tuned in during program breaks. Correct answers give viewers additional bonus points toward the sweepstakes awards.

"Eighty-nine percent of interactive viewers interact with the commercials," Roberts said. "The screen on the PC rebrands itself to an ad. That allows us to say we're kind of TiVo-proof."

Interactive advertisers can switch questions in or out each day. "We can put together a summary report for advertisers," he said.

Those advertisers currently include AT&T Corp., Burger King Corp., Discover Card, The Walt Disney Co., General Motors Corp., Kraft Foods Inc., Sony PlayStation, Pfizer Corp., Best Buy Co., The Allstate Corp. and The Quaker Oats Co.

Buttressing broadband

The deeper GSN plunges into interactivity, the more it learns about the consumer. Once the network activated an interactive feature for Lingo, its usage surpassed all other interactive games, he said.

At some point, 10 percent of all GSN viewers play along online, Roberts said.

"We're also starting to learn that at certain times of year, interactive is more active," he said. "We've had some peaks over the summer, and sometimes with new show launches."

GSN has also started to add broadband elements and games to its Web sites, as it sees an increase in broadband Internet connections.

"Lingo
plus is well over a megabit," he said. "A ton of our audience is starting to get into cable modems."

That dovetails into GSN's early discussions with gaming-console manufacturers and MSOs about broadband games tied to the cable-modem platform.

"We're going beyond the TV game show," he said.

And interactivity on the TV set remains on the agenda. Roberts said GSN has talked to set-top makers about creating interactive games for current-generation boxes.

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