The iTV Doctor Is In!: Can a Games Channel Compete with a Programming Network?

Dear iTV Doctor:

Has the industry yet figured out how to use games as content? We've seen "advergames" and little embedded games connected to iTV applications. We've seen various and sundry distributors try their hands at subscription game packages. But what I want to know is, can a games "channel" compete with a major programming network for audience share?

Gamer in Gotham

Dear Gamer:

Like many in the iTV business, I've tried my hand in the games business. And I've played hundreds of games from virtually all cable, satellite and telco providers, as well as the games that are embedded in iTV applications from a number of programmers. But none of those have the visceral feel, the sense of place or the continuity of a branded network. And nobody has proven that a games service that could compete, eyeball-for-eyeball, with the likes of USA Network (the perennial cable ratings leader).

That is, until TAG Networks (note: for full disclosure, TAG Networks is one of the sponsors of The iTV Doctor) released a year's worth of usage data from their deployment at Oceanic Time Warner Cable. TAG Networks has a wealth of games with a flexible delivery protocol that is getting traction across the industry. And their data prove that they can compete for viewership, for audience flow and for advertising dollars with established cable networks. Let's hear from Sangita Verma, TAG Networks' founder and CEO .



Dear Gamer:

At TAG, our vision is to build the next top-10 television network. We've always believed that the right combination of games, technology and distribution would attract a substantial nationwide audience, and our numbers are proving that. With a large audience, our revenue model is flexible enough to suit the needs of any distributor--packaged subscriptions, premium games, interstitial advertising, and micro-transactions. In fact, the TAG Networks channel satisfies the needs of consumers, distributors and advertisers, because the game experience is second to none.

With other television games platforms, you can wait up to several minutes before your game is downloaded and ready to play. That's a deal killer right there, because television is an instantaneous experience. When you want to watch a show, change the channel and there it is. Select a movie from VOD or on your DVR, there's no waiting--it just starts playing. Gamers are notoriously impatient--they don't wait for anything!

Our solution uses a streaming model that gets the consumer into the games immediately. And these are compelling, beautiful, high-quality, full-audio games, like "Bejeweled 2," "Tetris," "Diner Dash" and "Barney," as well as favorites like "Texas Hold 'Em," "Sudoku," "Checkers" and many more. Plus, we support community features including high scores, real-time multiplayer across the entire distribution network, and a new in-game award system. In 2010, our players will be introduced to even more exciting social features.

Because we program and compete like a network, we also deliver a network-beating audience. A year's worth of TNS data from Oceanic Time Warner Cable shows that TAG's audience topped 43 other linear channels when it came to average daily viewing minutes. During every single month of 2009, TAG consistently ranked highest for the most time spent viewing per day per set-top box, topping prominent brands like Disney, CNN, USA Network, Discovery, Lifetime, TNT, AMC and Nickelodeon. Over the course of 2009, the average time per household visiting TAG was 116.5 minutes per day.

And remember those consumers aren't just sitting back passively. They're engaged in the games, and that means they're engaged in the advertising. I guarantee that if you've just beaten level nine of "Bejeweled 2," you will NOT tune away before level 10--even if there's a commercial in between.

For advertisers, the TAG audience covers a broad demographic spectrum: we literally have everyone in the household playing. We index very high with families--homeowners with a high net worth and school-aged
children. And even higher with young, mobile singles with a high disposable income.

So, dear Gamer, thanks for asking if a games channel can compete with major programming networks. The answer is absolutely!



The iTV Doctor is *Rick Howe*, who provides interactive television consulting services to programmers and advertisers. He is the recipient of a CTAM Tami Award for retention marketing and this year was nominated to Cable Pioneers. He is also the co-author of a patent for the use of multiscreen mosaics in EPG's. Endorsed by top cable and satellite distributors, "Dr" Howe still makes house calls, and the first visit is always free. His services include product development, distribution strategy and the development of low-cost interactive applications for rapid deployment across all platforms. Have a question for the iTV Doctor? Email him at

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