Mark Burnett, Microsoft play ‘VGA’ game

Producer takes Spike TV award show directly to gamers

At a time when gaming franchises like “Call of Duty,” “Halo” and “Assassin’s Creed” are stealing younger auds away from TV shows, Mark Burnett is taking Spike TV’s videogame awards directly to gamers.

For “VGA Ten,” the producer worked closely with Microsoft’s Xbox Live team to add interactive elements to the kudocast as it unspools simultaneously on the Xbox 360 gaming console when the show airs tonight.

Producers wanted to give auds a way to “play” the show as it unfolds by having them respond to polls through their Xboxes or the Xbox SmartGlass app on their smartphone, tablet or PC. Results will tabulated in real time and inform four-time host Samuel L. Jackson on what auds want to see next.

Through Xbox Live, viewers will choose which weapons from various videogames that Jackson will appear with onstage, or the videogames they want to see him integrated into via what’s being dubbed “Sam Jackson Mode.”

“They’re programming and directing their own show,” said Casey Patterson, executive VP of event production, talent development and studio relations for the Viacom Entertainment Group. “They’re directing Sam Jackson. They’re telling us what the coolest weapons are and what they’re going to see.”

After scoring with similar live interactive broadcasts of the Mars Rover landing and the presidential debates, Microsoft hopes the pair-up with Spike TV will give TV producers additional ideas of how to incorporate Xbox Live into future events.

Around 4 million poll responses were generating during the presidential debates before the election.

“What we’ve learned is that we can turn passive viewers into active participants,” said Marc Whitten, chief product officer of XBox. “People felt more committed to what they were watching. The people that want this the most are gamers. This is what they do, they interact with content. They want to be able to direct what’s going on. They expect it to be social and tied together.”

While Viacom-owned Spike TV is available in 98.7 million homes, the cabler is clearly going where gamers are with the broadcast.

“VGA Ten” also will be simulcast on MTV2, MTV Tr3s, Spike.com and GameTrailers.com, in addition to Xbox Live.

“This unprecedented partnership with Xbox will make ‘VGA TEN’ … the first awards show presented on Xbox where our fans play every day,” Patterson said.

The network isn’t worried that it’s turning viewers away from Spike TV with the Xbox Live partnership.

“At Spike we know this is where our fans live and breathe,” Patterson said. “They will watch it where they want to watch it. Rather than be afraid of it, we’re embracing it. It’s half terrifying, sort of exhilarating to be in a real conversation with real viewers in real time.”

Burnett added that he’s learned lessons about embracing social media and other interactive elements while producing music-competition show “The Voice” for NBC.

“You need to embrace how young people consume entertainment,” said Burnett, who also serves as exec producer of the “Video Game Awards.” “It’s completely normal to kids. It’s the way people want to consume entertainment.”

But Burnett stressed that “it’s still a TV show.” “If it’s not a great experience it won’t mean much,” he said.

“VGA Ten” will also feature musical performances by Linkin Park and Tenacious D. Linkin Park’s “Castle of Glass” is nominated for “Best Song in a Game” for Electronic Arts’ “Medal of Honor: Warfighter.”

In addition to honoring games like EA’s “Mass Effect 3,” Microsoft’s “Halo 4,” 2K Games’ “Borderlands 2” and thatgamecompany’s “Journey” in various categories, kudocast will also introduce first looks at upcoming games including Naughty Dog’s “The Last of Us,” Epic Games’ “Gears of War: Judgment,” and Obsidian Entertainment’s “South Park: The Stick of Truth.”

Nominees were chosen by the VGA Advisory Council, made up of videogame journalists from media outlets including Entertainment Weekly, Game Informer, Joystiq, Kotaku, Polygon, IGN, GameTrailers, Gamespot, Wired.com, USA Today and the Associated Press.

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