Alas, Poor G4: Your Long Identity Crisis Is Over

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We’re still learning what “The Esquire Network” will entail, but G4’s time catering to the nerdy crowd is over. Other than X-Play and Attack of the Show, it really ended years ago. I still remember the early days. CinemaTech showing the best cutscenes from video games, featuring real talk about the latest games. In retrospect, I guess it was too good to last. The network shifted gears multiple times, leaving only X-Play and Attack of the Show. The cast members that made those shows special eventually left as well.

G4 aren’t the only ones to fail here. Numerous shows and networks have tried to capture the gamer audience. Many have used the allure of high level tournament play, which is a must for any gaming network. ESPN had a bit of success in that arena with its Madden Nation show. Nobody’s consistently drawn the ratings that makes such shows worth doing regularly.

Games including League of Legends and the Street Fighter series get thousands of people watching over live streams. I believe that number would be higher on TV if anyone could figure out how to broadcast it. So far that’s proven an impossible task. Televising video game tournaments isn’t as aesthetically pleasing as pro sports.

Often those directing and producing the tourney shows have opted for a greater focus on the personalities themselves. But they have yet to strike a balance between the human interest stories and the games. If you watch NFL football, the sappy stories are during the pre-game show and halftime, not during the event. Many efforts to televise video game tournaments have barely used actual game footage.

Also, retired players often take time during the pre-game to show what both teams are going to try to do. That’s an aspect I haven’t seen in most video game tourney shows. I think pro players willing to share their tips on TV might find an audience.

X-Play and Attack of the Show have devoted audiences.  They have lasted this long because the hosts forged a genuine connection with viewers. It wouldn’t surprise me to see them continue on the Esquire Network in some form. Good shows are hard to come by. G4 simply couldn’t find other shows that had that same appeal. Then reruns of COPS and Cheaters reared their ugly heads, for hours a day. That is a phone-in move for program directors the world over. It’s cheap, easy and registers an ever so slight familiarity ratings blip.

Mainstream media missed an opportunity here. Print media is too slow to be on the cutting edge of gaming entertainment. Its strength is digging for the deeper story, and sometimes doing months of work to tell it properly. That kind of content doesn’t drive TV ratings. Cable networks may have arrived to the party too late. While they were still figuring out how to provide content for gamers, websites solved the mystery.  The perfect marriage for gaming content may be for a cable channel to work with an established web brand. That’s what Spike TV is doing with GameTrailers. When that tandem moved full speed ahead with coverage of E3, it pushed G4 even further down the list of TV options for gamers.

In so many ways, G4 was a brave experiment. I’m sad to see it go.

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