Would you like to see more synergy between music, video and games? How is this achievable?
We don’t think of it as synergy, we just think of our audience, what they want to do and how we deliver it to them. We deliver both music and games to them. We don’t need to mash them together. Some of our games properties are completely standalone and other ones are tied to television things. We’ve had television shows on Rock Band, we have games properties involved in Spike TV. If we want to meet the audience, sometimes the properties are appropriate to television and sometimes they’re not. It’s just nice to have the ability to make that decision when we need to.
With the acquisition of Harmonix, MTV is getting known for its rhythm-action games. Do you think about pushing into other areas?
I oversee all of our brands – everything from Spike to Nickelodeon, so it’s a little broader than just MTV. We split our games into four categories: Casual, Media (which is information about games), Console Games, and then we have Virtual Worlds. But previous to Rock Band, we didn’t have a whole lot of rhythm-action games. We want to go after whichever genre our audience believes in. Some of our core properties, like Spike, will interest young male gamers with information on console games or game trailers, and we’ve had a lot of success with Flash games. It’s only at the moment that Rock Band overshadows things.
How will the projects your studio partners are working on satisfy the expectations of the MTV audience?
Ever since we started as a cable company, we’ve asked ourselves ‘what do consumers want?’ In that way, MTV is very faithful to its market. We know what teens and young adults like. Our shows are very much lifestyle-orientated shows – some have music elements and some don’t. Our games follow that pattern. It’s very much a continuation of how the brand first started out.
When you bought Harmonix, we were told you’d spend $500m on games. How much has been spent so far? Where have you invested?
It was over two years, and we’re maybe a quarter into it, so we’ve probably spent a quarter of it. A lot of that was a budgeted amount that we were planning on spending on development and marketing and making our name in the games business. We looked at our strategy and calculated this big number. It’s verified internally how important it was to us – and we decided to tell people about it. It’s not like some kind of number I have on my wall here that I tick off each time we spend. It’s not set in stone. Who knows? The number could end up being much greater.
You work under the Viacom umbrella. Can you see MTV teaming up with the likes of Paramount in the future?
Absolutely. They have some of our labels already – the MTV films label and the Nickelodeon label being good examples. We’re talking to them on the gaming and the virtual worlds side. There are a lot of clear ways we can work with them. There’s nothing concrete at this stage, but I talk to them all the time.
Are you looking at more potential partnerships with third party publishers?
We tend to work on a property-by-property basis. We’re not a publisher, so we need a partner on most of these things. We have mobile games relationships with leading operators, but even so, making the game and ensuring it works on the thousands of handsets, we need a publisher for that. Our strength is in content and branding.
Would MTV or MTV Networks have the capacity to launch a self-publishing operation?
It’s possible. Shockwave now has Shockwave Studios and they actually publish games that are on other websites. It’s on a small level, but it’s dipping our toe in the water. We’re looking at which direction we should go when it comes to the food chain of the gaming world. It’s definitely a possibility.
Is there a timescale on when that could happen?
It depends on when certain opportunities come up in front of us. We do little experiments here and there, and if we see success with a new idea that we think we can use, we’ll go with it. We like to be innovative and follow our own direction, so if there’s something in that area that we think we can help us on the path to becoming a publisher, it makes a lot of sense for us.
The last few months have seen the Activision-Vivendi merger and the EA’s bid for Take Two. Would you look at acquiring a games publisher?
We’re tracking that sort of thing very closely, and it’s exciting to see the reasons and the numbers behind some of these deals. If the right opportunity came along in terms of strategy, we couldn’t rule it out.
Are there any gaps in the MTV portfolio you’re looking to address?
I don’t think we’ve done a tremendous amount in mobile games. The business has been up and down. We’re pushing hard with Shockwave and Flash gaming, but we’ve taken a different approach to mobile. We have a South Park game and a Spongebob game. We’re not doing anything wrong, but we haven’t yet been hyper aggressive in that category.
How do you see digital distribution going in the future – and is the traditional retail box model under threat?
I do think it’s under threat. With things like Xbox Live, we’re aware that the console model is becoming more reliant on digital downloads. There’s a clear pathway there that the box is not going to be of much value. The question then is: where is that retail experience going to be? Is it going to be things like Marketplace on Xbox Live – probably yes. Is it also going to be directly from the likes of Amazon or MTV? From our perspective, some of our properties we may sell, but we’ll let everyone sell them. We never want to be proprietary about where our products are sold.
The retail experience lets people interact with games such as Rock Band. Will that mean High Street retail still has a place in a decade’s time?
Yeah. Because there is such interaction there, it makes it very different from the personal experiences of CD or DVD. I don’t think the High Street is going to die by any means, I just believe that digital is going to come on really strong.