Appleton: Video game companies explore new territory with plan to stream exclusive TV shows via consoles

March 28, 2014 

In my day, we had to work for our home gaming experience. Consoles had to be clicked on and off and the cartridges we used were temperamental. We had to blow in them to make them work. Why? I don't really know why. When you are 7, you don't question results.

I definitely never thought that these clunky systems would someday evolve into sleek and powerful machines with voice commands, wireless controllers and tons of ridiculous features. I tried to set the clock on my PlayStation 4 the other day, and I am 90% sure that I cut the power to all of Sri Lanka instead.

Can these new systems — and the companies that control them — get any more complex?

Yep.

Sony announced earlier this week that it plans to branch into original episodic programming strictly for the PlayStation Network. Basically, the company is going to make TV shows that can only be streamed on a PS3, PS4 or PS Vita.

PlayStation's first show will be the graphic novel adaptation "Powers," which is about a group of detectives solving crimes in a world full of supernatural beings. "Powers" reached the pilot phase with the FX cable network, but things didn't work out.

I find it interesting that the first show chosen for this new endeavor is not an adaptation of a PlayStation game. Sony has been in the movie and television business for some time, so maybe it plans on taking a traditional approach to programming for its offspring's new streaming network? Perhaps Sony thinks that adapting games into TV shows is the easy way out. Why not find fresh programming ideas or breathe new life into discarded pilots?

Microsoft seems to be taking the opposite approach. It announced a similar streaming-only network awhile ago, but its first show will be a big-budget adaptation of the company's flagship franchise: Halo. This adaptation was originally slated as a Hollywood movie shepherded by "Lord of the Rings" director Peter Jackson, but those plans fell through and Jackson produced "District 9" instead. Now, Steven Spielberg has signed on to produce a Halo series for Xbox Live members only.

Both companies are willing to pour some money into this new frontier. They are following the example set by Netflix, who spent millions of dollars on "House of Cards" and a series of documentaries.

I have to say that I prefer Microsoft's approach. You are building a network specifically for gamers, so why not throw all of your efforts into a gaming-themed show? That is not to say that "Powers" or other non-game related programming won't work. People who read comic books tend to also play games, so it isn't a stretch in demographics by any means. I just think that throwing your weight behind a gaming franchise is a much better way to go.

I think both networks will succeed, but they each have some work to do.

First, Sony seems to view this new programming plan as a major selling point for the PS4. It is not. Nobody in their right mind is going to buy a $500 console just to watch a TV show. The programming could maybe persuade someone who was on the fence about buying one, but it isn't going to significantly boost sales.

Second, Sony and Microsoft need to offer these shows to people who don't own a console. That's how the Netflix model was so successful: people can watch Netflix on their phones, tablets, televisions, computers, etc. The gaming companies will have to offer an independent streaming package at a discounted price to people who don't own one of their consoles.

The final test is whether the companies can sell this idea to gamers. Right now, I pay $50 a year for PlayStation Plus. This covers all of the online features: access to free games, the ability to play with others online and the ability to use the streaming apps like Hulu or Amazon Prime. Once PlayStation starts pouring millions into shows for its Plus members, that membership fee is likely to rise. What if I don't care about the TV shows and just want to play my games? Do I still have to pay more? It might be a tough sell for some people.

I don't think that the PlayStation and Xbox streaming packages are going to set the world on fire. Rupert Murdoch certainly isn't scared of the PlayStation media empire. However, I am excited for the new programming. I think it could mean opportunities to creative people who get passed over by traditional TV networks or movie studios. And who knows? Maybe the Xbox or PlayStation streaming services will crank out the next "House of Cards."

 

Rory E.H. Appleton is the associate editor for www.corruptedcartridge.com and a journalism student at Fresno State. You can reach him at rory@corruptedcartridge.com or @RoryDoesPhonics on Twitter.

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