Sony’s Gamescom press conference ended with a flurry of announcements. Price cuts for PS3 and Vita. New PlayStation Plus offers. That all-important PS4 release date.
Almost lost amongst them was the news that Virgin Media will be the official Internet Service Provider for the next-generation console. For Virgin, it’s a major deal that connects them directly to gamers.
It follows in the wake of Virgin’s partnership with Ginx TV to create a video games channel, and the addition of a game trailers app and casual games portal to the TiVo set-top box.
The firm’s director of broadband Joe Lathan calls it “a great endorsement” but says it ties directly with a grander plan that Virgin Media has been working on this year. “We believe in digital and, within that, gaming in its widest sense is one of the key contributors. Gaming and its related industries are important markets for us to explore.”
Virgin has been actively aligning itself and its services closer with gamers in the last year. Getting Ginx TV is perhaps the most significant. Virgin and the online media outlet teamed up earlier this summer to broadcast Ginx content as a TV channel, flying in the face of multiple failed attempts by rivals at establishing a video games channel in the past.
“We’re the only provider to be offering a
channel with dedicated gaming content.
That’s part of our wider strategy to make
this sort of content available to people
that are already interested, but also
broadening that out to wider audiences
who may stumble upon it or be
recommended it by friends.”
Joe Lathan – director of broadband, Virgin
“We’re the only provider to be offering a channel with dedicated gaming content,” says Lathan. “That’s part of our wider strategy to make this sort of content available to people that are already interested, but also broadening that out to wider audiences who may stumble upon it or be recommended it by friends.”
Central to this strategy is TiVo, Virgin’s premium set-top box that recommends content to users based on other shows they have watched. Lathan believes this will be vital to helping gamers discover Ginx and other gaming content.
“If Ginx is Channel 317 but you don’t know it’s there, it’s quite hard to find, but TiVo helps you find the content you like and puts it all into one place for you,” he says. “So, using TiVo to help 1.5m customers find the content that they want, and having Ginx TV on the platform means gamers have a better chance of finding the content they’re interested in and that’s relevant to them.
“We can do that from our side, and Ginx will be looking at the content it is pushing to the channel so it can create shows that are as relevant as possible to the audience that they want to attract.”
TiVo will also point customers to the game trailers app, a constant stream of high-definition footage from upcoming games like Battlefield 4 and Metal Gear Solid V. It may seem an unusual feature to tuck away in a set-top box, particularly given that said trailers are already available online, but Virgin believes it offers publishers a better way to showcase their upcoming titles.
“Publishers put a significant amount of investment into the trailers for the game they produce. That’s almost a big industry in itself,” says Lathan. "We can explore how to show these trailers to our customers on their TV screens, on a big screen in their homes.
"It seemed like an obvious way to exploit that. It opens up new opportunities for customers who may not have seen these trailers before. Or, to those that have, it gives them the chance to see this on their big screen at home rather than on PCs or tablets. It’s exploratory territory for us, but it’s proved to be popular.”
That popularity comes in at 77,000 users watching its video stream per month, and now Virgin is working on how best to promote the app further, not only to customers but also to games publishers.
Finally, TiVo launched Play Games in July, a casual games portal that lets users play a range of puzzle, management and match-three games on their television. While Virgin recognises that such titles are already widely available on multiple platforms – many of which are, in fact, in the living room with the TiVo box – it still believes this is a natural fit for the service.
“We look at our TiVo platform as an entertainment
platform and content aggregator for our customers,
so why wouldn’t we have games in there? The
audience to whom those games appeal is likely
to be different to the one that goes out and buys
a PS4, but there’s a whole wide spectrum of people
that enjoy playing games as part of their entertainment."
Joe Lathan – director of broadband, Virgin
“There’s a big convergence in how people consume entertainment. The lines are blurring thanks to streaming content and people sitting in the lounge with their iPads and tablets,” says Lathan.
“We look at our TiVo platform as an entertainment platform and content aggregator for our customers, so why wouldn’t we have games in there? The audience to whom those games appeal is likely to be different to the one that goes out and buys a PS4, but there’s a whole wide spectrum of people that enjoy playing games as part of their entertainment.
“There’s a very real opportunity with TiVo and how we can use that to provide different sorts of entertainment that you would not traditionally expect from a television platform.”
That sentiment echoes across all of Virgin Media’s gaming ventures. Lathan refers to the company as an “entertainment provider” rather than just another ISP. And with a more than healthy TV and movie service on offer, Virgin is keen to establish itself with today’s gamers.
The PS4 deal may not have sparked much discussion after Gamescom, but that’s because Virgin Media has a lot more that it wants to talk about.