In September last year, I made the jump from the comfort of the lovely White City ADVNCR (formerly Attention Seekers) office and studios to join our relatively new office out in the wild frontier of west coast America. OK, I’m over-egging it, the Los Angeles office is in Burbank and it’s not that wild. They’ve got a Target and everything.
But there is one thing Los Angeles never lets you forget, whether it’s the countless ‘For Your Consideration’ posters lining the streets full of static traffic or the sight of the iconic Warner Bros studio lot right outside the door of our office, this city is the centre of the entertainment business, and within three days of being here I found myself at an event run by The Hollywood Television and Film Society as part of their Unscripted season. The subject? Opportunities in esports and video games.
I’ll never forget it. The panel was fascinating, with hugely knowledgeable games industry speakers, but the most interesting part? The questions from the TV executives:
‘What do we need to be relevant in the video games space?’ ‘How do we win an esports audience?’ ‘How do we get video games onto television?’
These were high-level players from the big networks and studios and there was a sense of… well let’s say urgency, in their voices.
Now this is not news to any of us working in the creative space around video games, that TV should be embracing this cultural phenomenon. We’ve all been knocking on UK network’s doors for years with pitches for video game shows and things have started to move recently. We got excited just getting a first UK TV game special away for Quantum Break with Channel 4, then Go 8-Bit brought games to primetime on Dave and we’ve seen Sky dipping its toes into esports. Far from the usual lip-service, television is producing meaningful video game content.
The US is way ahead of us here. Our US office produced an Apex Legends Pro-Am that went out on ESPN and ABC last year. Video games on ABC for two hours on a Saturday afternoon – imagine that happening on BBC 1 – and it’s not just ABC, TBS went in heavy with e-League, NBC have a Rocket League show, CBS even had half a million people watching the Nintendo World Championships.
Yet still it was clear from this panel experience, TV executives are looking for more, buoyed no doubt by the knowledge that the networks need to attract younger audiences, and they have realised that video games is a route to doing just that.
So what’s the future? Esports has a way to go, I kept hearing the phrase ‘no-one has got it right (for TV) yet.’ If it’s going to attract those truly mass TV audiences it needs to give more casual viewers a reason to invest, the league structure, geographical, player and personality-based narratives that traditional sports offer.
But numbers are creeping up as producers get canny to what actually works as a TV experience. Beyond esports, there’s the opportunity for clever and inventive thinking to develop original programming and entertaining formats around video games themselves. Is this going to bring under forties back to linear television? Nope. But a lot of those forty plus TV watchers have been – or are – gamers now and crucially the networks are adapting where and how viewers experience content to hit younger audiences. In the UK, Channel 4 and the Beeb have run video games related content on All4 and iPlayer, and in the next year, we’ll see a host of online platforms and channels popping up either entirely devoted to or featuring programming on video games, all hungry for content.
Attitudes are definitely changing after years of networks and commissioners running scared of video games programming and the opportunity for individuals and companies working in content creation around the industry has never been greater.
Jason Wiltshire is Chief Content Officer and SVP Biz Dev for ADVNCR. He has worked in the games industry for over a decade, delivering some of the industry’s biggest live moments as part of an award winning team, from esports finals to E3 press conferences.