Learning from G4 and VENN’s deaths: TV on Twitch doesn’t work

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Over the weekend, news leaked that Comcast is cancelling G4TV less than a year after its relaunch. The former early 2000’s tv network — known for shows like Xplay and Attack of the Show! — failed to recapture the millennial audience Comcast wanted on Twitch and pay TV providers.

My time at competitor VENN was enough to know G4TV was living on borrowed time. While G4TV made its fair share of mistakes, the underlying problem was the format itself.

Both VENN and G4TV brought premium television-style content to platforms like Twitch and YouTube Gaming. This — in theory — sounds like a recipe for success. However, this style of content creates a host of issues for the companies behind them.

Financial fallout from formatting

Let’s start with money. In a leaked statement to G4TV staff, Dave Scott, Chairman and CEO of Comcast Spectacor, admitted that G4TV’s “viewership is low and the network has not achieved sustainable financial
results.” The overhead to run a traditional TV network — the stages, production teams, talent and sales and support staff — is monumental. VENN burned through over $40 million in 18 months attempting this.

These mounting costs probably pushed executives to search for ways to better monetize their product. Both VENN and G4TV chose to sign deals with pay TV distribution companies — Roku Channel, Xumo, DistroTV, and more for VENN and Verizon FiOS, Cox, Xfinity TV and Philo for G4TV — to accomplish this.

However, these deals created a host of problems. Namely, ad breaks. While Twitch has recently pushed for streamers to run more ads, Twitch viewers often complain that commercials ruin the experience. After all, Twitch has acclimated their userbase to only see preroll ads for years. When VENN and G4TV tried to run traditional eight minute per hour ad breaks on a platform like Twitch, they lost viewers.

Both networks tried to appeal to a new generation of viewer with a linear TV format presented on a streaming platform it was not designed for.

Over the last 90 days, G4TV averaged just over 2,000 viewers on Twitch — firmly placing the company in the top 1% of broadcasters. But compared to the thousands of viewers Nielsen reports for TV networks, this looks like peanuts to executives.

However, this could be a failure to see a larger trend. Even studio-style shows presented on TV are losing their audiences.

Failing to find a fanbase

Building a fanbase is, of course, incredibly difficult to do. Talent are the main tool for outreach so selecting the right people to champion a network is essential.

Both VENN and G4TV hired top talent and guests to appear on the program. But both failed to find personalities that would generate the viewership they needed.

Both networks chose to work with esports talent — particularly commentators and interviewers/hosts. They believed that hiring talent with large Twitter followings and expertise in one or more esports would attract viewers. While this probably helped to a degree, the networks failed to convert as many fans as they had hoped for.

Unlike streamers who work for years to cultivate a personal following, esports commentators do not necessarily inspire the same level of connection. This leaves them at a disadvantage when they have to draw in viewers through sheer force of their personality.

This is made even more difficult when you alienate some of the audience you do have.

G4TV made headlines in January 2022 when one of its hosts made a fiery speech about sexism in gaming. While sexism in gaming deserves to be called out, this criticism unfortunately divided the audience.

Statistically this segment harmed G4TV’s long-term growth. In the immediate aftermath, G4TV lost thousands of YouTube subscribers and average views per video never quite recovered. Since the segment aired, G4TV has scrubbed all references to it on their social media and made the video on YouTube private.

VENN featured similar content — especially in its gaming news show while leading up to the 2020 election. When we tested this content with audiences, most viewers wanted the content to be less political. They wanted gaming content to be an escape from other problems going on in their life.

Ultimately, both G4TV and VENN marketed themselves to too narrow of an audience and alienated potential viewers.

Sign of the times

G4TV and networks like it are becoming relics of the past. Content creators like Ludwig Ahgren can grow a news show — Mogul Mail — to nearly 1 million subscribers in a year with just a webcam and a microphone. This makes it impossible for big production companies to compete on a cost-basis.

Audiences care about individual creators, not faceless companies. This is why companies like G4 and VENN paid big name creators to be the face of their shows. For example — AustinShow one of Twitch’s top creators — was contracted as a host for game shows on both VENN and G4TV. However, the content wasn’t sticky enough to get fans of content creators to stick around after their episodes ended.

Big productions on Twitch aren’t dead, they are evolving to be creator led. For example, Felix “xQc” Lengyel’s Juiced game show is produced by Ludwig’s agency Offbrand. The show is still in its infancy, but it is already reaching nearly 100K average viewers.

Both G4TV and VENN’s short comings are partially due to ownership not understanding the platform, but it was also a result of failing to understand that the playbook that worked in 2008, would not work in 2022.

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