The ‘Halo’ effect of media

Videogame sales glow as fall TV springs to life

Kenneth Gonzalez has been eagerly awaiting premiere week for months, but he wasn’t thinking about TV’s “Big Bang Theory” or “The Bionic Woman.”

The 18-year-old was in line outside EB Games in Universal City on the night of Sept. 24, eagerly awaiting 12:01 a.m., when the doors would open and he and 1,000-plus other vidgame fans, some of whom had been waiting for over 24 hours, could finally buy “Halo 3.” (See the review of the game, page 87.)

“This is going to consume my life for the next eight to 16 months,” he says, a “Halo” poster in his hands and a “Halo”-themed Xbox 360 in his backpack.

Ask Gonzalez, or most of his fellow “Halo” lovers, about TV’s premiere week, and they look back at you like you’re crazy. “I don’t care about that,” is his succinct response.

Gonzalez grants that if there were no cool new videogames, he might be watching TV. But with the possible exception of “Family Guy’s” Stewie, the only character the assembled “Halo” fans want to see on their TV is Master Chief.

The simultaneous debuts of “Halo 3” and the fall TV season was purely coincidental, of course, but TV execs can’t be thrilled that millions of vidgame fans, most of whom are in the elusive young male demo, were occupied elsewhere — by the biggest vidgame launch of the year.

And while it’s impossible to draw any definite conclusions, there were signs of young men’s absence from the TV dial Sept. 25, “Halo 3’s” rollout day.

Fox’s hit “House,” for instance, saw a 36% boost in female teens from last year’s premiere, but was flat among teenage boys. CW’s “Reaper,” which skewed young and male among those who did tune in, had a soft bow in the same timeslot.

It’s easy to understand why young men may were distracted: Microsoft unleashed a massive marketing barrage, complete with Mountain Dew and 7-Eleven tie-ins, and co-produced “Halo 3” programming on male-skewing cable nets like Spike and Sci-Fi.

Microsoft also made sure key journalists felt the fever, inundating them with more than $1,000 worth of promo material, including “Halo” figurines, controllers, personalized duffel bags and multiple copies of the game.

As over the top as the marketing may have been, there was no arguing with results: On Sept. 24 alone, Microsoft sold more than 2.5 million units of “Halo 3” and a record-breaking 1 million-plus people played the game online.

“‘Halo 3’ has become a pop-culture phenomenon,” bragged Microsoft’s game publishing topper Shane Kim.

Though the correct method of counting is debatable, there’s no denying that in terms of gross revenue, “Halo 3” met Microsoft’s goals as “the biggest entertainment launch in history,” grossing $170 million domestically in first-day sales.

Overseas figures weren’t available, but are likely huge in many of the 37 countries where “Halo 3” launched day-and-date.

If they want young men like Gonzalez to tune in, network execs may want to take a look at the vidgame release calendar before scheduling next year’s TV premieres.

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