Sony's PlayStation Network Steps Up Original Content Effort


NEW YORK - Starting Tuesday afternoon, Sony Corp.'s PlayStation Network is bringing back its first original series The Tester for a second season, and looks to take it to the next level.

The sophomore season will feature integrated advertising partners that bring in revenue, longer episodes -- as requested by fans -- and new elements to engage viewers more, including a loft that the contestants will be based at, which allows for more romance and conflict, and in-home contests with prizes attached.

The Wipeout-meets-Apprentice reality show, in which 12 contestants compete in challenges to decide who will become a computer game tester for Sony Computer Entertainment, is available for free download in both standard definition and HD formats from the PlayStation Store and will also be shown in PlayStation Home Theater 6.

"As PlayStation Network continues to build the foundation for a new entertainment platform, a key component is delivering compelling gaming lifestyle content to our fan base," said Susan Panico, senior director, PlayStation Network.

The broader goal behind original content is to also broaden the scope of the PlayStation business. "We are looking to transform from a video game company to a media company," similar to HBO, Panico told The Hollywood Reporter.

"When we created PS3 we knew it was much more than a gaming machine. We have had a 10-year vision to be an entertainment hub in the living room."

Season One was about launching the PS Network's first original and making it entertaining. The show drew 2.5 million viewers. Now it is about also making some revenue via advertisers Ford, game maker Electronic Arts and the Air Force, which are all looking to reach new platforms and the gaming demo, and will be integrated in the show and its challenges.

For example, Ford made available the Ford Flex to shuttle contestants during the early shows and the hybrid Ford Fusion later in the season.

Brian McClary, social & emerging media specialist for Ford, Lincoln-Mercury, told THR that the car maker is looking beyond traditional marketing routes. "We want to reach people on new platforms where they increasingly spend time, so when Sony presented this as part of a broader marketing plan, we jumped at it. " said McClary, who is a gamer himself and enjoyed season one of the Tester. "And we are really interested in the gaming audience. Just look at who's playing games these days. It's not only very young people. There are a lot of males in their mid-30s now."

McClary said the Tester integration allows Ford to showcase vehicles and their features, such as hands-free calling, within the context of fun and exciting content. "It is not just logo slapping," he said. "We are truly integrated and weaved into the story."

Panico said the sponsorship revenue will allow the company to cover the cost for the eight episodes of 25-30 minute length, which is estimated at $1 million. "Obviously we are not going to do this and lose money," she said.

"The goal is to break even on original content. We want it to pay for itself, and we have been pretty much doing that."

She wasn't ready to announce further original content projects.

The Tester is produced by 51 Minds Entertainment, the reality outfit behind such shows as The Surreal Life and Flavor of Love.

Adrianne Curry, an avid gamer and winner of the first season of America's Next Top Model, will join returning panelist Brent Gocke, senior release manager from SCEA, and host and model Meredith Molinari along with six gaming industry guest panelists, including Stig Asmussen, game director for God of War III and Greg Goodrich, executive producer of Medal of Honor.

Among the 12 contestants is the winner of PlayStation's first-ever nationwide online casting contest, Mickey Paradis, known as 8bitmickey.