Editor’s note: Billy Warden is a communications strategist and entertainment producer based in Raleigh.
RALEIGH – Guys with guns, girls with attitude, cops and cyborgs – this is the world of G4. The relatively new Comcast cable network bursts with adrenalized pop culture programming for dudes 18 to 24. The emphasis is on gaming, but the digital warriors and hottie hostesses aren’t what really makes G4 compelling.
The real action is G4’s attempt at a kind of convergence. The network pushes a platform where television, the Web and social networking come together in one complete, cohesive experience. At least that’s the goal I discovered when I recently went inside the workings of G4 for a project.
The bet here is that young (and young-at-heart) TV viewers want a more interactive TV experience. Or, as the network puts it, “TV that’s plugged in.”
Take “Cops.” The syndicated warhorse is part of G4’s programming roster, but it’s not your big brother’s version. Now, on “Cops 2.0,” while you watch the boys in blue bust bad guys, you can answer on-screen text questions via email. Or just read along with the scroll at home. To the on-screen query, “How would you react to a stabbing?” a viewer came up with this useful remedy: “I would put chicken mcnuggets in my wounds.” (And to think McDonald’s is getting such a bad rap from the public health-ers!)
The “mcnuggets” moment illustrates an important element of G4’s approach and one necessary in today’s environment – the added layer of commentary increases and transforms the content value. Drama becomes comedy. The straight and narrow becomes ironic.
And that’s just a start. On the newsy “Attack of the Show,” the hosts toss the TV audience to commercial and then go right to a stick-cam which keeps the content flowing via a feed on G4TV.com. Also on the Web site you’ll find polls, the day’s hottest viral videos and opportunities to send webcam questions to show hosts for use on-air. During Nov. 6’s “Election ‘07” stunt, you can vote for what show you’d like to see next, thereby taking control.
And that’s the key issue – control. TV networks used to assert absolute power (they programmed every minute) with viewers mostly being passive (voting, in a way, by watching or not, but primarily just sitting and taking it). That model, the thinking goes, wheezes closer to oblivion every time someone logs on to YouTube.
The next generation of programming has to find ways to engage an audience that won’t accept a passive role and may not even be capable of focusing the way their parents did. Television, once the big kahuna, is now just one more noisy, blinking toy in a mix crowded with games, the Web, text messages, iPods etc.
For cable networks, this new reality is an opportunity. Cable is more niche than broadcast and so can be more nimble and responsive. If G4 can break out ratings wise, it has the potential to set a new level of expectation. That would make it the standard-bearer, an enviable place in any market. Certainly, G4’s developing network of plugged-in participants gives it a tremendous opening for word-of-mouth marketing.
But breaking out will probably require some kind of big bang – a programming development with more mass appeal and/or utterly unique content. Wouldn’t it be great if that pop somehow came from a viewer, inspired to brilliance by the ability to talk back to his TV?