If You Can’t Beat ’Em …


For years, cable and broadcast network executives have struggled to determine how to attract the ever elusive 12-to-24-year-old male viewer outside of traditional college and pro sports events and more youth-targeted extreme sports programming.

But the emergence of new and popular male-skewed entertainment platforms such as music-video downloading and video games have provided several networks with content fodder that is effectively competing with the PC, Apple Computer Inc.’s iPod and Microsoft Corp.’s Xbox.

Network executives say it’s not hard to find 12-to-24-year-old males: they’re playing Final Fantasy on Sony Corp.’s Playstation2, downloading the latest 50 Cent hit into their MP3 players or streaming the most recent Ciara hip hop video on their computers. In fact, according to the 2005 MTV Networks/Viacom Inc. “Leisure Time Study,” the group — through multitasking — extends a typical 24 hours a day into 29 hours. Of those 29 hours, about 16.6 are devoted to “leisure” activities, of which 3.4 hours are spent watching television.

Need to Get Noticed

The hard part for cable networks is to grab and hold their attention. With that in mind, networks like G4, MTV2 and Spike TV are turning their attention to producing programming that embraces the gaming and music downloading culture in an effort to reel in these young, multi-tasking consumers and to build long-term viewing habits for their respective networks.

Rather than take the traditional route of hiring programming executives to create shows, networks like G4 and MTV2 have tapped video-game producers and record labels to create shows that would appeal to their core viewers.

Video-Game Content

“MTV was one of the first channels to get off that paradigm and go directly to the music industry and not the traditional television model,” says G4 founder and CEO Charles Hirshhorn. “We decided to go to the video-game industry that’s producing 35,000 to 40,000 hours of video content a year and say, 'Let’s use that production expertise to create content.’ It’s a non-traditional place to create television content.”

With 9.7 million males 12 to 24 playing video games — approximately 24% of the total gamer base, according to a September 2004 Nielsen Media Research report — the industry is fertile ground for male-targeted networks.

Using animated shorts and promotional materials created for the top-selling video games in the industry, G4 has been able to fashion several popular video-game-oriented review/preview shows like Cheat, Judgment Day, X-Play and Filter. And they have helped the network become a top choice among the young-male gaming elite.

The network has also promoted and supported the video-game genre with original shows like extensive coverage of the annual E3 video-game show, its G-Foria video game awards and its upcoming Video Game Vixens, which pits the best and most beautiful video-game women in a digital “beauty pageant.” Such support has scored points with both video-game companies and male fans of the genre, says Hirshhorn.

“We’re taking conventional live-action format, turning them inside out and producing irreverent, fun programming based on video games and their characters,” Hirshhorn says.

Spike, which targets an older 18-to-34 male demo, has also delved into the video-game arena. It has green-lighted 13 episodes of an untitled video-game series produced in association with game content developer G-net, according to Kevin Kay, Spike executive vice president of programming and production.

The topical “video-game sketch comedy” show, set to debut in October, will provide a new and distinct look to video-game programming, according to Kay.

The network, currently in 87 million homes, was the first to put video-game programming in the limelight with its annual telecast of the Video Game Awards, which begin in 2003. “It’s obviously one of the biggest and largest growing fascinations for our audience of young guys,” says Kay. “We want to be in that business 52 weeks a year and build appeal for the younger end of our audience.”

G4 is apparently reaping the rewards of its similar video-game-based programming strategy. “We have the highest concentration of men 12-34 of any network on television,” touts Hirshhorn. “Our audience is over 80% male, and we are 50% higher in terms of males 18 to 34 than the second closest channel. It is a pure destination lifestyle channel for men 12 to 34.”

Possibly the only thing that young men like to do other than play video games is to listen and acquire music. According to MTV’s Leisure Time Study, males 12 to 24 spend more of their 16.6 multitasking leisure hours utilizing music in some shape or form (3.7) than they do watching television (3.4).

Networks such as MTV2 and Fuse are attempting to serenade viewers through a bevy of music-video and interactive fare that brings to viewers the best of both worlds.

Streaming Music

Both networks offer viewers the opportunity to stream music videos from their respective Web sites (MTV2.com and Fuse.tv). Fuse, currently available in 40 million households, also provides viewers the opportunity to purchase and download music to MP3 players and iPods.

In fact, each day the network offers 1,000 free downloads of one song featured on its Daily Download show, said Fuse vice president of marketing Sandy Rubinstein. The show is part of Fuse’s initiative to simultaneously provide Internet and mobile television offerings with all of its programming.

“Kids don’t just watch television anymore — they’re watching with their cell phones in hand while they’re [Instant Messaging] their friends on the computer,” she says. “So we’re finding ways to fuse all those media together to deliver our content on all three platforms.”

MTV2 is reacting to the same trends. The network’s Discover and Download provides free exclusive downloads on MTV2.com along with on-air music videos and exclusive live performances. The new series Playlistism provides insight in to the playlists of music artists, celebrities as well as the latest in MP3 technology and gear.

During the first quarter 2005, MTV2 saw a 46% increase in its base of 12-to-24 viewers over first-quarter 2003 results, according to MTV2 president Dan Cohn. And, in an attempt to meld the music-video and video-gaming business, both MTV2 and Fuse provide a platform for viewers to download music to the recently released PS2 portable Playstation game unit.

MTV2 also plays homage to the gaming genre through series Video Mods, where “we recreate popular music videos with video-game characters with the cooperation of both the music labels and the video-game publishers, which has brought us into the gaming space,” according to Cohn.

He says that it’s imperative for networks trying to reach young viewers to incorporate these non-television elements in their programming, even though such activities serve as competition for cable networks.

“This is the lifestyle that our audience has embraced, they kind of look at these things as all of these seamless passions in their lives, so that’s what our channel needs to be,” he says. “It maybe competition [to cable] for time spent, but it hopefully means greater time spent with MTV2 and greater loyalty from our audience.”