Comcast has re-launched the video game channel G4, betting that online streaming and the growing popularity of gaming will make the network a hit this time around.
The channel went live this week on traditional TV lineups, including Comcast’s Xfinity and Verizon Fios, as well as online on YouTube Live and Twitch, the video-game-focused streaming service. The network, dedicated to gaming and geek culture, features an unscripted variety show, video game reviews, coverage of esports, and a series dedicated to the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game.
“It really is Saturday Night Live for gamers,” said G4 president Russell Arons, describing the programming as “comedy irreverence, but backed on the insight and knowledge of the gaming and fandom world.”
Indeed, the network’s name is itself a joke. G4 is not an acronym. “It absolutely means nothing,” Arons said. “It’s just kind of made up.”
G4 was a pioneer in putting video game content on television when it debuted in 2002, but low ratings took the network off the air in 2014. The defunct brand essentially sat in an NBCUniversal vault until Tucker Roberts, the president of Comcast’s gaming division and the son of CEO Brian Roberts, wanted to bring the channel back, Arons said.
The revival of G4 is Comcast’s latest bet on gaming. The network is under the umbrella of Comcast Spectacor, the Philadelphia-based sports and entertainment unit that owns an esports team, the Philadelphia Fusion. Comcast also backs Nerd Street Gamers, the Philly-based esports company that just opened a campus in Center City.
Consumer spending on video games is on the rise. Americans spent $13.3 billion from July through September, up 7% from the same period last year and the most ever spent during a third quarter, according to New York marketing consultancy NPD Group.
The Burbank, Calif.-based network is already in more homes than the original G4, thanks in part to online distribution channels such as Twitch. With online streaming and a wider adoption of gaming, the network expects to reach 250 million households in the next year, far more than the original channel’s 60 million, Arons said.
“We’re actually talking to a broad audience. It’s really a lifestyle and not just sort of a hobby that a few people talk about secretly,” she said. “The trend is our friend when it comes to the growth of gaming and the growth of fandom as an addressable audience.”
The “digital-first” network is also experimenting with new ways to engage its online audience and integrate advertising into its programming. For example, the first 1,000 viewers to spot a character playing a pizza delivery guy could win free pizzas from a G4 sponsor, Arons said.
“You literally have people engaging to watch where an advertiser is,” she said. “That’s totally different. Instead of people trying to skip a commercial, now they’re engaged.”