Turner's Playing Broadband Games

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Looking to tap the rapidly growing $10 billion world of games, Turner Broadcasting System Inc. is creating a broadband entertainment network offering on-demand video games, supplemented by related original content.

In the works for two years, GameTap — the brainchild of Turner vice president of new products and innovation Blake Lewin — will launch this fall with some 300 games and then roll out more titles each week.

Working off a flat-fee model, Turner officials say they've already reached deals with 17 publishers covering nearly 1,000 games, excluding current titles and all mature games.

By the time the broadband service launches, Turner hopes to add four more publishers and push its games roster past the 1,100 mark.

“This gives gaming developers a back end,” said Andy Heller, president of domestic distribution at TBS, likening the gaming industry to the theatrical realm, where studios only receive one quarter of a film's revenue from the box office, with the bulk coming from pay TV, basic cable and broadcast windows, as well as DVD and other platforms.

GameTap is platform-agnostic, relative to video games that emanated from arcade, console or PC applications.

Among the games subscribers will be able to access on GameTap: Ubisoft Entertainment's “Myst” for the PC; Sega of America Inc.'s “Sonic” versions one, two and three; Activision Inc.'s “Tony Hawk” 1 and 2; Namco's “Pac-Man”; and Eidos Interactive's “Tomb Raider” for the PC.

Turner will begin beta tests of the service for game play, credit-card authorization and other customer-relationship management elements in late May and into June. It expects to charge customers between $10 and $20 per month.

That price affords unlimited play of the titles on two household computers.

Players will download and install Turner-developed client software from the GameTap Web site (www.gametap.com), which acts as a gateway to the games library. A three-dimensional interface menu will categorize games by tiers and other subsets.

Once selected, the title displays an “infocard,” housing a description, the platform, the publisher's name, a screen shot and bonus material, which will include classic commercials for the title and related programming content, created by Turner.

Heller, who declined to disclose Turner's financial stake in the project, believes GameTap will help affiliates sell high-speed services, and promote the creation of more content for broadband.

Turner last week began to notify potential MSO and telco affiliates about the service, which requires “a broad pipe to get the full effect of the graphics,” he said.

He envisions three types of affiliate deals: promotional and marketing partnerships; wholesale arrangements; and “bounties” for sign-ups.

Affiliate meetings are expected after Turner demonstrates GameTap at E3, the May 17 to 19 gaming-industry conference in Los Angeles.

Turner executive vice president of operations and strategy chief Jim McCaffrey said the company is considering adding content from other company properties like NASCAR.com and CartoonNetwork.com, and would be open to working with publishers to develop Turner-tied original video games.

Ensuing generations of GameTap could involve multiplayer games and could be applied to set-top boxes or cell phones.

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