TBS Takes A Turn At Classic Video Games

Turner Broadcasting System, the company that dusted off old movies and TV shows and turned them into a shiny, profitable franchise, is attempting to apply the same model to video games.

This week, Turner launches Game-Tap, an online “channel” of classic video games that will be supported with a marketing push in excess of $50 million. For a $15-per-month service, GameTap will allow users to access more than 300 nostalgic arcade and console games from such publishers as Atari, SEGA, Activision and UbiSoft. It will require broadband users to download a piece of software that will enable them to play everything from Asteroids and Centipede to Pong, Pac-Man and the PC version of Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow.

The potential is potentially unlimited. Downloadable PC games, which have been coined “casual games,” are expected to be a half-a-billion dollar business in 2005, per International Development Group, San Francisco, a video game consulting house.

A 15-month “Expand your playground” campaign, via Mullen, Wenham, Mass., will educate consumers about the service, which Turner likens to the launch of iTunes or Napster.

Still, analysts say there will be many challenges for the new service. For one, only a limited number of homes now have broadband service—38 million in 2004, per the FCC. But the number is growing: It is estimated that about 42 million homes will have it this year, per eMarketer, New York.

GameTap’s first ads show footage from old favorites including Pac-Man and Tomb Raider set to the strains of cover versions of the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive,” Elvis Costello’s “Pump It Up” and Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.” The spots will air across Turner networks (TBS, TNT, etc.) as well as networks including CNN, E! and MTV. The GameTap Web site will also try to build a gaming community, offering such extras as “A Day in the Extra Life,” which shows game characters away from the action. Print, online and grassroots GameTap lounges will support.