Activision Blizzard to unveil first entertainment programs

As it readies the launch “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3″ next week, Activision Blizzard is also preparing to unveil the first entertainment programs to bow with its social network tied to the massively successful game franchise.

The first batch of original series on the Call of Duty Elite website will bow Nov. 11, just after “Modern Warfare 3″ hits store shelves on Tuesday. The service will require paid memberships to access elements of the site including the shows Activision is queuing up, starting with “Fright Night Fights,” from Tony and Ridley Scott’s RSA, and a series from Jason Bateman and Will Arnett’s Dumb Dumb banner.

Activision’s Call of Duty Elite social network is envisioned as a way to keep gamers engaged with the franchise in between new game launches each November. Activision also sees the service as a way to further monetize a series of games that have become the top earners over the past two years.

“We’re managing (the social network) very much like a cable channel,” said Todd Harvey, VP of global consumer marketing at Activision. Programmers will keep close tabs on the popularity of the shows, which initially will be exclusive to the Call of Duty Elite website before they are syndicated out to other digital platforms.

Activision’s move to into original Web programming comes amid a flurry of activity in Web original content. YouTube, for one, is preparing to launch 100s of entertainment channels on its site.

Annual membership fee for Call of Duty Elite will cost $50, with special $99 editions of “Modern Warfare 3″ including a membership.

The programs on Call of Duty Elite’s Elite TV channel will run up to 15 minutes in length. More shows are set to rollout through the end of the year.

The Stacy Kiebler-hosted “Friday Night Fights” will feature competitions between teams of celebrities, including Michelle Rodriguez, Jack Osbourne, the Orlando Magic’s Dwight Howard and the Washington Wizards’ John Wall, along with members of Good Charlotte, the Game and Cali Swag District, and real-world rivalries like police vs. firemen and New York City fans vs. Boston fans.The first of 10 installment pits Army vs. Navy. Episodes air each Friday with winners donating $5,000 to charity.

The Dumb Dumb series will showcase the best uploaded videos from “Call of Duty” fans.

Activision is counting on the popularityof the “Call of Duty” franchise to provide a solid subscriber base for its ambitious Web venture. Last year’s “Call of Duty: Black Ops” sold more than 12 million units, more than twice as many as the second best-selling title of the year, Electronic Arts’ “Madden NFL ’11,” according to NPD Group, earning it more than $1 billion. “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2″ also broke launch records and has earned more than $1 billion.

During an early test run of the Call of Duty Elite website, Activision said it had registered more than 2.8 million players.

The service will enable fans to connect with their Facebook friends who like the combat franchise, join groups and play in organized competitions, while also offering exclusive new content downloads and game additions. System is designed to track player stats and provide video to improve gameplay.

Certain parts of the service will be free to play, while additional extras can be unlocked through the membership fee.

Elite TV “will be part of the franchise going forward,” said Jamie Berger, Activision’s VP of digital, since Call of Duty Elite is aligned with the ongoing growth of the franchise for years.

Added Berger, “This is our way of saying, ‘Let’s stretch out and think of new ways of entertaining (our community) and giving them elements of what the audiences like and give them programming made by “Call of Duty” fans for “Call of Duty” fans.’ “

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