It was no surprise to VENN co-founder Ben Kusin that the last question he’d face during a Q&A session about his new video game and culture network would be one about G4.
G4 was a once-beloved cable channel among young viewers that showcased everything from video game programming to Japanese game shows and is rumored to be making a 2021 comeback. It is in some respects the predecessor to what VENN (Video Game Entertainment and News Network), which launched earlier this month, aims to be.
The new channel, which Kusin, a video game industry veteran, founded alongside longtime esports producer Ariel Horn, is hoping to tap into Gen Z culture by bringing video game’s biggest players and personalities to appear in a variety of programming running on the 24/7 live channel.
“We all grew up on G4, we loved it, it’s a fantastic brand, but where does it evolve?” Kusin said at the company’s first-ever appearance at the CTAM’s virtual press tour, a partial replacement for the annual Television Critics Association’s summer press tour that was canceled this year due to the pandemic. “We’re out there, we’re live now, we’re making content and that’s as far as we can get.”
VENN debuted Aug. 5 with 21 hours of original programming per week coming largely from its Los Angeles studios. There are talk shows that center on video game and tech news, variety shows, celebrity interviews and even an interactive fitness show; many of the series are headed by creators who have built fanbases on platforms like Twitch and YouTube.
Gaming serves more as “the connective tissue” between the shows, rather than the only focuses, Kusin said.
He is keen on pointing to MTV’s popularity among young adults in the 1980s and 1990s as what VENN hopes to represent in the market.
“MTV, what it was in the ’80s, ’90s, when it was a culturally relevant source, was a thing that was culturally live, relevant and happening,” Kusin said. “So in that regard, yeah, we absolutely do see it [like that.] We want to be that voice of this younger generation to have an authentic conversation in a broadcast environment.”
While the content is rooted squarely in the next generation of viewers, the new network is operating within the framework of traditional television. There’s a major emphasis on live programming, not on-demand viewing, and the network is looking for distribution across MVPD and virtual MVPD services and skinny bundles to broaden its reach.
It’s an ambitious goal to launch a new network as linear television viewership continues to fall, which may explain why VENN will also be streaming on Twitch, YouTube, Facebook Gaming and other digital distributors, and makes its shows available for on-demand viewing after they air live. “You’ve just got to simply be everywhere and anywhere people are consuming content if you want to have a viable network,” Horn said.
The network sped up its launch to capitalize on the surging video game usage during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, but whether it will resonate with the gaming fans it is designed to appeal to remains to be seen. With that said, VENN doesn’t see itself as competing with Twitch or YouTube, but rather complementing them by giving streamers on those platforms resources in the television production space.
The focus on collaboration, rather than competition, may even extend to the newest iteration of G4.