Video game competitions are about to become network sports events

Hard at work.
Hard at work.
Image: Reuters/Jean-Paul Pelissier
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In an attempt to lure millennials back to television, Turner Broadcasting Systems will begin airing live video game competitions during prime-time on Friday nights next year. The network, which created its own league with WME/IMG as part of the effort, aims to reach the rapidly expanding audience for professional gaming—which was over 200 million worldwide in 2014, and climbing, according to gaming researcher NewZoo.

The move underscores the fact that millennials are watching far less live TV, and broadcasters are eager to draw them back, along with the advertisers flocking to digital.

The good news: Gamers, and e-sports fans in particular, watch more TV programming per week than average viewers. According to NewZoo, 66% of e-sports fans watch over six hours of TV, including traditional live TV, on demand video, online, and streaming. That’s compared to 64% of gamers and 61% of the total population.

The bad news: They tend to tune in wherever they are, which is often a computer or gaming console. About 33% of players who own gaming consoles like a PS4 or XBox use them to watch TV shows, according to the Entertainment Software Association, which means they’re tuning into live TV and using cable less often. And those who are playing more video games than they did three years ago are also spending 39% less time watching traditional TV.

TBS is betting that its new league with WME/IMG can convert more gamers into diehard e-sports fans, thus returning them to television. “It’s my firm belief that there are many e-sports fans who don’t know they’re e-sports fans yet,” Tobias Sherman, head of WME/IMG’s eSports division, told Variety. “Hell, I was one.”

But it will have it’s work cut out for it. ESPN dabbled in the e-sports arena with little success, and NBCUniversal pulled the plug on the video game network G4 last year because of low viewership.