Network programming goes interactive

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With the videogame sector increasingly siphoning away potential primetime viewers from the 18- to 34-year-old male demographic, TV networks and production companies are finally wising up to the fact that maybe they can put interactive entertainment to work for them.

SpikeTV is trying its hand with "Game Head," which brings a unique slant to the current events in videogames along with news and previews. But there are even more adventurous experiments taking place, as new shows incorporate game technology and 3D computer-graphics into traditional linear entertainment.

Foglight Entertainment just completed the documentary "Hollywood Goes Gaming" for Starz Entertainment, and is working with networks like Discovery Channel and the History Channel on new programming that marries game technology with documentary storytelling.

"With the type of animation game developers are now producing, we are able to tell stories in a rich new way," says Foglight's Gregg Backer, who executive produced the series. "In 'Brother's In Arms: The Untold Story of the 502nd,' we used gameplay mixed with a combination of reenactments, cinematics and our own graphics," he adds.

Electronic Arts, the world's largest independent game publisher, has had success creating branded game programming with ESPN: "Madden Nation" and "NBA Live: Bring It Home" blend reality television with videogame competitions and superstar athletes.

"Our network partners have been very open and eager to collaborate with us on original programming," Electronic Arts director of entertainment Brandon Barber says. "They understand that it's important to look at content from a 360-degree perspective. While it's true that segments of the traditional television audience have moved to the more immersive experience of gaming, we have the power to bring them back, and networks understand this."

With gaming elements enhancing traditional storytelling techniques and vice versa, Backer envisions a day when Foglight produces scripted programming for television by partnering with gaming companies. "The key is understanding the brand and making sure the TV show becomes an extension of the game," Backer says.

Next generation consoles like Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 have also opened the door to utilizing TV programming within games. EA Sports already features ESPN "SportsCenter" clips in its "NBA Live" franchise. Microsoft Game Studios not only allows gamers to purchase TV content digitally, the company is producing original content for its 6 million Xbox Live gamers.

The History Channel is driving gamers to its Web site to live-out TV shows like "Dogfights," "Shootout," "Human Weapon," and "Ice Road Truckers" virtually. The network is working with game developers like Kuma Games to bring episodic gaming experiences online.

"It's important for us to continue the engagement we have with viewers on-air with our programs to different platforms and content extensions," History Channel executive vp and general manager Nancy Dubuc says. "History Games are a great way to offer fans a chance to really immerse themselves in the adrenaline of the subject."

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