Web's interactivity heightens experience

On the cable network G4, you don’t just sit back and watch an episode of “Star Trek.”

While the show is unspooling, one corner of the screen, called the “Spock Market,” is urging you to log in to G4TV.com to buy and sell shares in some of the show’s characters, like Sulu or Scotty.

Another simultaneous onscreen prompt encourages viewers to write instant messages about the episode, a few of which will get downloaded from G4TV.com and flash on the screen.

If that’s not enough, the left side of the screen is bristling with oddball facts, such as the number of times Captain Kirk has fired his phaser in that episode.

Multi-taskers with short attention spans may have found their home. “I’m gung ho on all of this interactivity,” says Ted Harbert, president and CEO of the Comcast Entertainment Group, which added G4 to Harbert’s portfolio of E! Entertainment TV and Style Network six months ago.

G4 president Neal Tiles says, “We want to establish G4 as the network for the iPod/YouTube/Xbox generation.” The network aims its demographic arrow squarely at men 18-34.

In the last year and a half, G4 has begun making its presence felt. It shot up by 71% in total primetime viewers in 2006, and in the first two months of this year, it has climbed by an average of 48%.

Among adults under 50, the primetime gain was 80% in 2006. The increase is a more modest, but still impressive, 21% in men and women 18-34. These double-digit increases are continuing into January and February.

Not surprisingly, these numbers translate into a projected growth in advertising revenues of 25% for 2007, according to Kagan Research.

“But it’s not time for us to high-five one another just yet,” says Harbert. The ratings may be soaring, but G4 still averaged only 125,000 primetime viewers last month, according to Nielsen.

Subscriber growth matches the rating growth. In the last year, G4 has added 8 million new customers, swelling its total to 61.9 million. As a result, G4’s revenues from cable operators and satellite distribs have mushroomed by 21%.

G4’s signature program is the nightly live hourlong “Attack of the Show,” hosted by Kevin Pereira and Olivia Munn, which has lots of news about trends in the videogame industry, bolstered by reviews of individual games.

Because videogame aficionados are not big on watching linear 24/7 networks, John Rieber, senior VP of programming and production for G4, says the network is branching out from coverage of videogames, instead using them as what he calls “a launching-off point” to cover other areas, from technology and sports to comicbooks and animation.

G4’s programming budget will creep up from $45.5 million last year to $52.3 million in 2007, reflecting the need to commission new shows and buy reruns to stay at least in the same solar system with deeper-pocketed cable competitors like Spike TV, Comedy Central, Adult Swim, Sci Fi Channel and MTV2, all of which target young men.

The cost of producing “Attack of the Show” shoots up when it goes on the road to do live and taped coverage of such events as the Consumer Electronics Show, Comic-Con, the Adult Entertainment Expo and the Tokyo Game Show.

Tiles says one of G4’s advantages is that it’s not as narrowly focused as many of its network rivals, so it can buy shows ranging across genres. It schedules reruns of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” “Cops,” “Arrested Development,” “The Man Show” and even some latenight plays of the syndicated “Cheaters,” which employs private detectives to train hidden cameras on unsuspecting men or women as they cheat on their mates.

G4’s firstrun slate includes 13 half-hours of “Spaceballs,” an animated series from MGM based on Mel Brooks’ 1987 theatrical-movie riff on “Star Wars,” to kick off in late fall; “Code Monkeys,” an animated show from Adam de la Pena (“The Man Show”) set in the 1980s and dealing with the videogame programmers who churn out such product as the Super Mario Brothers, to premiere in July; and a batch of fresh episodes of “Ninja Warrior,” produced by the Tokyo Broadcasting System, a reality show that sets up obstacle courses in which amateurs compete against top athletes from around the world.

Clearly, pop culture is G4’s stock in trade, says Tiles, who adds: “The beauty of G4 is that we’re not held hostage to a particular network definition. We can range all over the place.”

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