The iTV Doctor Is In!: Visiware's Laurant Weill on Interactive TV Games

Dear iTV Doctor:

As we are laying out our iTV plans for the next budget year, it seems that the easiest and fastest way to engage the greatest number of viewers is to invite them to PLAY with our programs. So if that's the way we go, what can we learn from the interactive game producers?

Ready to Play

Dear Ready:

We all multi-task, all the time. It's virtually impossible for a television program to capture 100% of the viewer's attention, and personally, I'd rather have my viewers playing my games on my channel than checking their email and watching my shows out of one eye. But most of the game experience to date has been with subscription packages, not with "in-program" games. So I turned your question over to one of the leading interactive game developers to get his perspective. Here's what Laurant Weill, president and executive chairman of Visiware, has to say:

Let's first examine TV gamers, and what they're looking for (based on a summary of Visiware studies over many years). Of course, most of our work has been with subscription and/or packaged games, using the standard remote control to play the game. But our data might point you to programs in which you'd have the best early success with in-program games.

TV gamers are split 50/50 male/female. We've had the greatest success with kids 6 to 14, housewives and seniors. And TV gamers are "over-equipped" with home media options--high def, broadband and game consoles.

TV gamers are looking for games that are easy to play, and they like leaderboards, contests and prizes. They play several times a week, at all hours, average 35 minutes per game session, and (this is important) usually alone. (iTV Doctor's note: playing alone seems obvious, but it's easy to miss. You can watch television with your family. But if you're playing a game during a program, you're likely to annoy the other viewers in the room!)

And don't forget that your games, like your programs, can be sponsored. We've been active in that is called "advergaming," and that experience has direct bearing on your question. Our sponsored games are launched from commercial spots, from channels and from portals (basically the same game can have three entry points). Our game sponsors have included Coke, Pepsi, Visa, Honda and more. We've launched new products, supported brand awareness and even generated sales leads.

Once you start adding games to your entertainment mix, you create opportunities for your ad sales team.

Or course, interactive television games, like any interactive television content, have to run on the available interactive platforms. You can access about 30 million satellite homes immediately, and the interactive cable audience is starting to grow. And the good news is that a TV game can literally be a one-way experience--it downloads to the set top box, and the viewer plays right from there. You really don't need a return path unless you want to introduce leaderboards or point systems, and while those are both popular with viewers, it might be worth sacrificing the advanced features in order to get broader deployment, sooner. (iTV Doctor's note: I never get tired of seeing this: don't be afraid to sacrifice fancy-schmancy advanced features in order to get your applications out there to the widest possible audience)

Finally, many interactive television games run on game engines that define and operate the viewer experience. So one game on channel X might look entirely different from another game on channel Y, but both operate on the same game engine. For the network, that could mean lower cost, easier testing and certification (inasmuch as the game engine has already been certified) and faster deployment.

So (and here's the shameless plug), if you're looking at developing games to enhance your programs, you should take a look at Visiware. We design games, we build games and we deploy games in 70+ countries on all major Digital TV operators:


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. 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