TV: playing the game

Factual giant National Geographic has become the latest TV company to launch a fully-fledged video game business, a move that marks the growing importance of gaming to traditional TV businesses.

The success of games such as Vivendi’s World of Warcraft and MTV Games’ Rock Band has encouraged TV outfits such as Nat Geo to get involved, to promote their brands to younger consumers through consoles and online gaming as well as through the television set.

Video gaming is currently a $30 billion business.

Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman recently told TBIvision that it is expanding its hit game franchise Rock Band and that gaming was a key growth area for the media giant.

Now, Nat Geo, which is initially launching virtual pet simulator National Geographic Panda with Namco Bandai, has hired Paul Levine to head its unit, which will develop a range of games based on Nat Geo properties. Could we see a multiplayer platform thriller based on World’s Deadliest Animals or America’s Hardest Prisons?

Last year, Endemol inked a deal with Electronic Arts to launch Virtual Me, an online game based on reality series Big Brother. Even comedy series such as Family Guy are regularly turned into gaming spin offs.

However, video games are not only a brand extension and an additional licensing tick, they are increasingly the source of new IP that will end up on the big and small screen. Production executives have started tracking gaming developments as closely as Hollywood scripts.

Starz has just recently produced a TV movie based on Dead Space, an Electronic Arts video game. Dead Space: Downfall aired on movie channel Starz Action and the company was shopping it to international broadcasters at MIPCOM.

Gene George, executive VP, worldwide distribution, Starz, says that the game is part of a trilogy that includes the game and a comic book. "A comic book series was put out and where the comic book ends, the animated film starts and where that ends, the game begins," he says.

Starz and its animation studio Film Roman, which produces The Simpsons, were looking for new properties and George says that it decided to look at new avenues. "The gaming business is a really exciting market. We reached out to Electronic Arts with Film Roman and they said that they were interested in the scripted entertainment business and we wanted to get in to gaming so it worked for both of us," he adds.

The success of the movie and the game means that the two companies are looking to develop two further games as animated projects. There may, it seems, be more competition by the time these reach completion.