But today, he can feel some validation. The annual gaming show, which was held last week at Los Angeles’ Microsoft Theater, released its viewership numbers on Wednesday, saying the digital broadcast reached more than 45.2 million global livestreams, representing a 73% uptick from 2018’s 26.2 million livestreams.
The ceremony had a peak concurrency of over 7.5 million global viewers, according to The Game Awards’ release, including more than 2 million concurrent viewers across Twitch and YouTube. Additionally, online authenticated fan voting increased 50% year-over-year to more than 15.5 million logged-in votes.
Keighley told Variety in a phone interview that the results make him “more and more confident that we shouldn’t have gone the television route and stayed exclusively on digital.” While he doesn’t count out the possibility of partnering with broadcast networks on cross-promotional initiatives in the future, he doesn’t “really ever see a scenario where [The Game Awards] becomes sort of a traditional television show.”
“I don’t think it’s where our audience is anymore,” he says. “I think sometimes we get focused, especially in America, on the traditional broadcast networks as establishing something as being sort of mainstream, and I think what we’ve found over the years is that streaming is mainstream, and it’s also way more accessible.”
The ceremony, however, did experiment with some new avenues this year. While it didn’t air on traditional TV in the U.S., it did air on MTV India. The show also teamed with Cinemark to simulcast The Game Awards at certain locations along with early screenings of “Jumanji: The Next Level,” and turned to Oculus Venues to offer a virtual reality component.
The next step, Keighley says, may lie with the bevy of streaming platforms that are battling for consumer interest next year.
“I could certainly see a scenario where we partner with one of the streaming platforms to maybe have some exclusive content that lives on that platform around the show,” he says. “As the streaming wars escalate in 2020 with all these services, we have one of the largest live audiences of millennials who are watching a streaming program – so obviously, there’s a lot of synergy there.”
The Game Awards doesn’t just differ from Hollywood mainstays like the Oscars and Emmys because of its absence on traditional television. In addition to handing out honors for the past year in games, this year’s show juggled musical performers like Green Day and Grimes with trailer premieres and industry announcements — like this year’s biggest, the reveal of Microsoft’s next-generation Xbox (an announcement that was kept so secret, Keighley says, that Xbox head Phil Spencer read a phony script about Xbox Game Pass during rehearsals).
Keighley admits it’s an “artful balance” to both honor the past year’s best games and look ahead to the future, or as he puts it, “a Comic-Con, E3-style sneak preview of where games are going.” But it’s a format that’s not going anywhere.
“The awards are really important to the show and I think they’re very important to game developers and the fans, so we try and sort of balance that,” he says. “But what we’ve found from all our sort of anecdotal research and feedback from fans is they really do want those announcements in the show.”
“The show will always be a sort of interesting hybrid of an awards show and a first-look preview show,” he adds.
Balance is something that Keighley brings up frequently — not just in how much The Game Awards looks backward or forward, but in how much pop culture is woven into the broadcast. He wants to make sure the show isn’t just “the game industry talking to itself,” but also that there isn’t “celebrity in the show for the sake of celebrity.”
He points to Green Day as an example, which announced its own music pack for virtual reality game “Beat Saber” in conjunction with its performance. Chvrches, meanwhile, played its song for Hideo Kojima’s “Death Stranding,” and Grimes was there for her collaboration with upcoming game “Cyberpunk 2077.”
“I think we kind of found now that we can’t just book an act to come perform their new radio single on the show,” he says. “It needs to somehow relate back to games.”
As for next year’s show, Keighley says, much of the content will obviously depend on what’s happening in the industry a year from now. But we already know the 2020 holiday season will see Microsoft’s Xbox Series X contend with Sony’s PlayStation 5, and when it comes to celebrities, he already has his eye on “Cyberpunk 2077” star Keanu Reeves as “the one that got away that hopefully we get in a future year.”
“But we’ve found also that we really only include somebody when they really make sense,” he adds. “Every year we like to have a couple special guests that we sprinkle in, but at the end of the day, [former Nintendo president] Reggie [Fils-Aime] is a big booking for us.”