The audience figures produced by PlayJam last week took a lot of
people by surprise.
For a start, many were troubled by the notion that a games service could
actually have audience ratings in exactly the same way as a conventional
television channel has ratings. Aren't games a fringe activity,
peripheral to the real business of watching telly? Yes and no,
obviously. And, after all, both activities involve the same sorts of
eyeballs, the same sorts of glue and the same sorts of TV screen - if
anything, the eyeball glue is actually stronger. You can't play and do
the ironing at the same time, can you? Each rating point is a genuine,
But, having taken all of that on board, even more perplexing for some
was the realisation that PlayJam's audience against the 16- to
34-year-old demographic on the Sky Digital platform is actually better
than a lot of highly fancied contenders. All five terrestrial channels
score higher (though Channel 5 only just sneaked in), as do Sky 1, Sky
Sports 2, Premier and UK Gold. But, on an average ratings score of 0.25
per cent, PlayJam is ahead of E4, Sky Sports 1, Paramount and, perhaps
most surprisingly of all, MTV.
This is astonishing for a channel barely four months old and one that
hasn't really been marketed as yet. But the figures do come with
something of a health warning. They were produced by PlayJam's owner,
Static2358, from a week's worth of raw data from Barb's Sky Digital
panel. It's a snapshot of the behaviour of a small sample size and isn't
the gold standard of Barb audience data on which TV airtime is traded.
But even the most sceptical believe that these figures reflect a
powerful underlying reality.
Does this upset our current models of the commercial TV economy?
Conventional media owners will not take much cheer from these figures.
But it's not necessarily bad for advertisers because it helps retain
viewers within the television environment. Paul Longhurst, the managing
director of Quantum New Media, says: 'You have to remember that with
some demographics, television has been competing for attention with the
games console for a long time now. It's actually a very big issue,
especially when you look at the vision Microsoft has in this field (the
software giant is working on technologies to facilitate the distribution
and download of more games). I suspect that gaming will come near the
top of popular activities on all interactive television platforms.'
Some would suggest that PlayJam's figures could be a significant turning
point for interactive television - they bring home to the marketplace,
in a manner it can truly understand, that this medium has real
Andrew Howells, the managing director of BMPTVi, states: 'The very least
it will do is alert people that there is something interesting going on
here. And there are lots of ways that you can attach a little bit of
advertising on to games.'
There are indeed. For instance, you can place banner ads within menu
windows or run pop-up interstitials while games are loading - and both
these formats link through to microsites.
The example used by Peter Lilley, PlayJam's director of media sales, is
an old game we're all familiar with - Pac-man. Imagine, he says, Pac-man
eating Smarties instead of dots. 'The best way to make this happen
creatively is for the guardian of the brand to come and sit down with us
here - and we believe we have the largest group of games designers in
Europe. We can look at the 35-40 games we have in our library and find
one that works and then integrate the brand. That's called reskinning.
But if you can't find a game to suit from the library, we can design one
for you,' he says.
A reskin costs pounds 15,000 and takes six weeks; a fresh design takes
up to ten weeks and costs pounds 40,000. The games at present are fairly
basic - quick quizzes and simple graphics games such as Tetris - which
makes PlayJam's success all the more remarkable.
Everyone should take heed, Longhurst says: 'With e-commerce, most big
companies got to a point pretty quickly where, at the very least, they
were comfortable with the issues involved. But with the equivalent in
interactive television - t-commerce - the issues are less well
understood, even though it is performing well in penetration terms. A
lot of the people using it currently, and this is to some extent
reflected by the PlayJam figures, are at the younger end of the market,
but you have to consider that in five to ten years' time those same
people will be among a company's most important customers.'
Toby Hack, an associate director at OMD, agrees with that. He concludes:
'Games are not just good fun, they can be addictive. Within a context in
which media fragmentation is set to increase, and where even mass-market
programming won't be able to deliver the big ratings they once did, this
sort of thing holds out the prospect of better targeting from an
advertiser point of view. But we all have to learn to move forward. I
know some advertisers and agencies don't really want to think about this
- it's exciting but it's scary too. We have to get a handle on what
people are doing in the interactive environment and how that activity
can fit with advertisers' brands.'