VENN, or the Video Game Entertainment and News Network, is announcing it will create 20 hours of weekly video game programming for broadcast television channel as well as digital outlets. The shows will debut August 5, but the New York-based company isn’t yet saying how the content will air. For the past couple of years, the company has been developing content toward a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week channel for fans of games.
More shows and talent will be announced in the coming weeks, co-CEO Ben Kusin said in an interview with GamesBeat. He said the shows are being designed for multiple broadcast TV, streaming, and online platforms.
“There’s a chasm of programming for Gen Z and millennials,” Kusin said. “We see a very big opportunity within television to be able to cater to an audience that isn’t being targeted. They play games like other generations watched movies or listened to music.”
The company has more than 63 employees (not counting contractors) and has raised $17 million to date. Investors include Mike Morhaime, the former president of Blizzard Entertainment; former Blizzard esports VP Amy Morhaime, his wife; Twitch cofounder Kevin Lin; and Marc Merrill, cofounder of Riot Games. VENN has created a 50,000-square-foot studio in the Playa Vista neighborhood on the west side of Los Angeles. Although it could be difficult to film shows during lockdown, Kusin said that the studio has been built with social distancing in mind. The company also has a studio opening in New York City in 2021.
“We were able to create a best-practices production house with testing, plexiglass dividers, a limited number of people in the control room, and a limited number on the set,” Kusin said. “Everything is cleaned and sanitized. We are shooting with wide lenses, and our talent is never within six feet of any person in the studio.”
Other companies have tried video game television before, including G4 Media, which started in 2002 and went out of business in 2014 after years of running shows on the G4TV cable channel. But Kusin said that G4 was ahead of its time, coming before the culture of game watching and livestreaming emerged with social networks such as Twitch, YouTube, and Facebook.
“The G4 brand meant something that was special at that time, but the timing was off, and it was before social networks really took off,” Kusin said. “That same programming wouldn’t be suitable for this generation today. We live in a different generation, in different times.” And thanks to mobile games, 65% of American adults play video games now, and the average age of a gamer is 35, according to the Entertainment Software Association.
VENN is targeted squarely at the streaming generation, and it is focused on the intersection of gaming and entertainment. While many of the star creators have become huge in the online world, they haven’t broken into mainstream TV because there hasn’t been a network that welcomes them, Kusin said.
So VENN will span multiple formats of entertainment — from talk shows and news to game shows and docuseries. Told through the lens of pop culture and gaming, the breadth of content will speak directly to Gen Z and millennial audiences, Kusin said.
“We know that TV production is at the highest quality level, and so the question is whether we can elevate our content to that highest level,” Kusin said. “If you were channel surfing, you would come across this network and it should look like a show you find on TV. We are finding the best content creators on YouTube or Twitch, across the world of gaming. We are putting them into TV format shows with directors, producers, and the highest production values. And that’s a very exciting opportunity.”
Kusin started the company with co-CEO Ariel Horn. From the start, they wanted to pull together gaming-oriented talent to create shows that gamers could relate to, with the production values of major TV shows.
The company’s shows include:
- VENN Arcade Live — A celebration of gaming and pop culture in a daily variety show. Hosted by League of Legends Championship Series host James “Dash” Patterson and others, the show will feature guest appearances, live performances, interactive gameplay, and audience participation from gamers, streamers, celebrities, athletes, and musicians.
- Dare Package — A show where unboxing is a competitive sport. VENN will send streamers loot crates each week with mystery prizes and puzzles that have to be solved to open the boxes. Dare Package will be hosted by @AustinOnTwitter.
- Guest House — Each weekday afternoon VENN will invite game stars and creators to choose their own adventure and customize their own two-hour TV show. Hosted by performing artist and gamer @ChrissyConstanza (lead singer of Against The Current), Guest House will let streamers take over a creative space and show what they can do.
- The Sushi Dragon Show — The show stars the eccentric performance artist and streamer @TheSushiDragon. The topics will change each week, with guests including musicians, artists, and creators.
- Looking For Gains — Hosted by YouTube sensation and competitive NBA2K Pro @CashNasty, this show will be an interactive fitness show with a celebrity guest each week. The celebrity will have to do a quarantine workout.
Kusin said that media companies want to recapture gamers who have long left TV behind and moved into online games, mobile games, and social media. That’s not an easy task, as there isn’t gamer-centric programming on TV.
“We know that gamers watch TV, like Rick and Morty, South Park, Game of Thrones, and other shows,” Kusin said. “It’s not like this audience doesn’t exist in the TV realm. We will find them on the platforms where they are.”
Kusin also said that while VENN’s content will appear on TV, it will also take full advantage of digital networks, livestreaming, and social media. “Our goal is to be agnostic and be on every single platform,” Kusin said. “The goal is to be on every single platform that can transmit our content, whether they are a cable channel, a social channel, streaming, or everywhere else.” By 2021, VENN hopes to expand to 50 hours of weekly programming, Kusin said.
Ben Kusin, by the way, is the son of Babbages cofounder Gary Kusin. That Dallas-based company was one of the early chains of game stores. It was acquired by Barnes & Noble in 1999. I used to write about them in the good-old days before they became GameStop, the biggest video game store chain.
“My indoctrination in games started when I was 5 years old,” Ben Kusin said.