Media Researcher: Networks Avoid Gaming Platforms At Their Peril

It's not clear how many network executives come home after a long day and turn on the Xbox for some "Mortal Kombat." Best guess: few.

After all, these days the TV business is pretty much an actual version of the video game, so why relive it at night?

Still, even if they didn't feel their job descriptions resemble "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare," a presentation this week made it clear they should spend considerable time zoning in on the people who play these games.

Reason being, a surprisingly large amount are using gaming consoles - an Xbox, a PlayStation or Wii - for TV viewing. And, if there's an anytime-anywhere quest for making content available, a coherent strategy to capitalize on the platforms will be key.

"If you're a network, you need to make sure your distribution includes access over gaming systems," said David Tice, a vice president in the media practice at Knowledge Networks.

The research firm's data shows nearly 20% of 13-to-29 year-olds use the consoles monthly for streaming or downloading TV episodes or movies. Meanwhile, consoles are in 58% of homes with 18-to-34 year-olds.



Tice noted many young adults already view the console as their media hub, their entry point. "People that age are used to using them for media applications beyond gaming," he said.

While there is considerable buzz about the iPad's ability to transform video consumption, data shows among a 13-to-54 demo, only 2% use the iPad monthly, while 26% flow content through a gaming platform, according to Knowledge Networks.

To be sure, a bunch of programmers understand the importance of the consoles. And, most of the large players have their content available in some form or another through them. ESPN3 offers live sports events. With Hulu Plus and Netflix, top-tier network shows are accessible.

A signal that content providers want to jump further into the game came this week with a Microsoft announcement that more programmers will begin making content available on the Xbox LIVE service this year, including HBO and NBCUniversal networks Bravo and Syfy.

Also, Comcast will make much of its VOD library of TV shows and films available, while Verizon will offer live TV (AT&T already does).

Content providers are wary of allowing the Xbox to facilitate cord-cutting, so the Comcast library is only available to its cable subscribers. Also, like other over-the-top viewing options, networks may be fearful making content easily accessible on an Xbox or PlayStation will chip away at traditional TV viewing. 

Knowledge Networks' Tice isn't so sure either doomsday scenario would result. "What we've found in media for a long time is people who are heavy users in one type of media are also heavy users of others," he said.  

For the moment, however, Tice suggested programmers are so enthralled with developing distribution approaches for iPads and Android devices and other new toys, that consoles may be getting short shrift.

Hollywood may be having its own version of Potomac Fever, that malady of short-sightedness that blankets Washington. "People in media tend to live in sort of an insular world," Tice said.

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