Over the past few years and in particular, over the past few months of the COVID-19 pandemic, gaming has taken a major spotlight in the entertainment world.
Gaming content has existed and thrived everywhere from Microsoft to Amazon’s Twitch, YouTube and even Facebook.
Now, Ariel Horn and Ben Kusin, co-CEOs of the Video Game Entertainment and New Network, VENN, are preparing to launch their much-anticipated platform on August 5th this year.
Horn is a four-time Emmy-winning producer and worked as esports production manager at Riot Games and Blizzard Entertainment, while Kusin formerly directed new media at Vivendi Games, which merged with Activision to become Activision Blizzard in 2008.
A few weeks ago, VENN announced the lineup of 20+ hours of original programming, hosted by content creators, that will give some people’s favorite streamers and gamers access to high-quality production studios built by VENN in California and New York City.
Big names with their own programming on VENN include eclectic streamer TheSushiDragon, with 200k followers on Twitch, 23k on Twitter, and 72k subscribers on YouTube, as well as former porn actress turned actor/DJ/activist Sasha Grey, who has 1.3m followers on Instagram, 35k subscribers on YouTube, and 520k followers on Twitch.
VENN did not initially provide details about distribution, aside from its plan make it a “post-cable 24/7 gaming network” that would cross over multiple platforms, including linear TV. Now, according to Variety, it has just announced that for its August 5th launch, VENN will be featured for free on Amazon’s Twitch, YouTube, Facebook Gaming and Twitter.
Connected TV platforms include, but are not limited to, VIZIO smart TVs, Comcast’s Xumo streaming service, Sinclair’s STIRR, and DistroTV, representing more than 30 million U.S. households -- as well as its own website: VENN.tv.
For gamers and advertisers alike, this distribution could make all the difference. When new game streaming platforms like Mixer (RIP) launched, they were tough to get off the ground, partly because viewers were not willing to migrate platforms, unlike TV viewers who are used to watching multiple channels.
Gamers were so accustomed to giants like Twitch and YouTube that even when Mixer signed away Twitch’s biggest stars like Ninja and Shroud, their audiences barely followed, only shifting their viewership share by a few tenths of a percentage point in comparison to their main competitors, Twitch and YouTube.
By distributing across channels for free to familiar places, VENN is not only waving a neutral flag in the streaming wars between Facebook Gaming, Twitch, YouTube (and now maybe Trovo, gaming publisher giant Tencent’s newly announced platform), but also truly embracing the proven fact that consumers’ media habits do not change.
In addition, advertisers with VENN will not have to choose between which platform to go to, or which exclusively signed streamer to sponsor.
I spoke with Dave Eichenstein, vice president of Business Development at VENN, and asked him about implications for advertisers. “When people say ‘TV’, they think of a lot of different things, including streaming services, linear content, etc,” he said. “At the end of the day, everyone understands TV as a form of media, and we’re focused on bringing people together at the center of the living room, their TV, regardless of what platform they use on that TV to watch VENN’s content,” he said.
By not asking gamers to pay yet another subscription fee or to go to a new site or sites to get the content they want to see (at least for the time being), VENN is maximizing its potential to draw in an existing audience, and build upon it, through channels that those viewers know and love.
Advertising to adults 18-34 and younger has always been difficult through traditional media in the new millennia. However, VENN presents a unique opportunity for advertisers and brands, as it places all the emphasis on the ever-elusive Gen Z and Millennial audience.
VENN is unique in that it will not charge carriage fees to its distributors, and it is sharing a portion of its 12-minute-per-hour programming inventory with its partners.
According to Eichenstein, VENN is “packing our content into 30- to-60-minute blocks so that we can work with brands to integrate them into the fabric of the programs, not just have them pop up for a 15- to-30-second commercial.”
Amidst much esports and gaming programming, advertisers have found traction through deeper brand integration with gaming events to be fruitful. AB InBev, Mastercard, State Farm and more have sponsored entire show esports segments or player interviews, and even custom products like a League of Legends decaled credit card, to connect with their audiences -- VENN intends to scale this up, but without the limitation of distribution.
By migrating away from cable’s one-access-point model, and from the exclusivity of some streaming platform content, advertisers that work with VENN have the ability to reach across that same wide array of distribution platforms.
But the biggest remaining question is -- will video gaming culture and TV formats combine together successfully to bring together the venn diagram of gaming? Any advertiser looking to reach this key audience should pray for it.
Free access and free distribution is nothing new in gaming. The audiences follow personalities and content that is typically bred from grass-roots beginnings. If we've learned nothing over the past decade, it is that corporate manufacturing of content that excites the audience is very difficult to do.
Also, there is no such thing as "video gaming culture." What does that even mean?
Hey Dan. I agree with you that corporate manufacturing of content that excites an audience is very difficult and will likely be VENN's greatest challenge. As I mentioned in the article, personalities like Ninja, the world's largest video game streamer, brought very little of his audience with him to Mixer despite his following. While free access and distribution are not new to gaming, they are new to streaming culture, which has more recently focused on exclusivity contracts. Can you name any streamers who livestream on multiple platforms at the same time? Seems like VENN might be able to do something new with that.
Also, I'd say video gaming culture is very much a real thing. FaZe Clan and 100 Thieves, to name two examples, have become major esports teams and massive lifestyle brands through their streetwear clothing - both of which started out as gaming brands exclusively and became intertwined with pop culture trends, aka, video game culture. Luxury brands like Louis Vuitton, Herman Miller, Gucci, and more have engaged in partnerships with esports and gaming brands. Plus, with Marc Merrill (Co-Founder of Riot Games) and Mike Mohraime (Co-Founder of Blizzard Ent.) contributing to the funding of VENN, whose entire idea is built upon this intersection of gaming/pop culture/lifestyle, I'd bet they're not talking about something that doesn't exist!