Cablers make play for gamer demos

G4 evolving into a lifestyle channel, peppered with vidgame culture

On paper, a TV channel dedicated to videogames made a lot of sense.

With gaming rapidly stealing young male eyeballs from TV over the last few years, network heads have sought to create programs aimed at the Madison Avenue-coveted group — or, in the case of G4, an entire cable network.

But appealing to the demo has been a long exercise in trial and error. G4’s narrow focus has worked against it in many cases, with the network accused of being too reliant on low-budget shows that were essentially reviews or cheap infomercials for games.

Now, under the aegis of Comcast and new prexy Neal Tiles, G4 is evolving into a lifestyle channel, peppered with vidgame culture, as opposed to wall-to-wall games.

“We’re going through a change. Guys like to play games, but not necessarily watch a bunch of shows with games on the screen,” Tiles says. “So what we’re doing now is expanding G4 from a network solely defined by videogames to one inspired by them.”

That means core series like review show “X-Play,” cheater guide “Cheat,” and vidgame trailer rundown “Cinematech” are now weaved into a broader lineup that includes episodes of “The Man Show,” repeats of the cancelled Fox series “Fastlane” and the original “Star Trek” skein.

On its “Biography”-style show “Icons,” the cabler profiles people like Peter Molyneux, creator of the game “Populous” and pioneer of “god games” like “Dungeon Keeper, BC” and “Magic Carpet.”

“Young guys have grown up with a lot of choices. They come to television and entertainment with a sort of cynical, seen-it-all point of view,” Tiles says. “So it’s important to infuse videogame-based series, or shows aimed at this demo in general, with a lot of attitude.”

And the space is more crowded than ever. As newer networks like Spike TV, Adult Swim and MTV2 make plays for the ADD demo, a glut of game-inspired programming is cropping up.

Among the proven and upcoming entries are Spike’s fourth annual “Video Game Awards” and latenight offering “Fresh Baked Videogames,” a half-hour comedy show hosted by Bert Kreisher that sends up vidgame culture via sketches, animated bits and man-on-the-street segments.

Over at MTV2, still going strong is “Video Mods” a showcase of video mash-ups that combine the songs of real artists like the Foo Fighters with games like “Star Wars Battlefront II.” The cabler also is working on a competition skein called “Are You Game?” in which contestants compete in live-action versions of their favorite vidgames.

And for its part, Cartoon Network is working with game maker Midway to release a slate of vidgames based on the cabler’s original programming.

Meanwhile, broader-based networks also are using vidgames to lure young men. Showtime is developing a movie based on the phenomenon of “Doom,” while Turner Broadcasting, parent company of Adult Swim, last year launched GameTap, an online subscription service that features computer and video games from the last 20 years.

“What you’re finding is that what’s going to work on networks are the shows that can tap into that sensibility of the videogame-playing crowd,” Tiles says. “It’s the reason why comedy work so well on platforms like YouTube. Videogame shows have to hit that same tone.”

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