Boosting TV Ratings– With Gaming

Normally we assume games and television are competing mediums. (Which is why advertisers, afraid of losing their younger audience, are trying to promote their products in games themselves— albeit with limited success.)
But in one case, at least, it’s not a zero-sum deal. When the History Channel wanted to promote a new show called “Shootout!“, yet another combat-oriented documentary series for the cable station’s roster, they comissioned a free multiplayer PC game to accompany the week’s episode. So when “Shootout!” covered the Battle of Iwo Jima, for example, you could go to the show’s site and download a first-person shooter in which you play, as their two-fisted press release describes, “through the eyes of a U.S. Marine, single-handedly overrunning a heavily-fortified bunker complex by hand-carrying an aircraft machine gun into battle.” (Did that actually happen? Guess I need to catch up on my History Channel.)
At any rate, the ultimate results were striking. Carrie Trimmer, Director of Licensing at A&E Television, explains.

“We have seen an increase in viewership for the series, and we’ve seen a spike in traffic on the website,” Trimmer tells me. “ saw a lift of approx 25% in traffic week over week for the
hours around ‘Shootout!'”
After a month of the show/game’s launch, well over 200,000 unique players had downloaded and jumped in for some playable moments in the history of warfare. (These aren’t one-try affairs either, with about 2,000,000 total game sessions.)
The game itself was created for the History Channel by Kuma Reality
, and to judge by CEO Keith Halper’s description of the gameplay, the it isn’t only being played by hardcore military buffs. “There are certainly teams who like to run the game like a real military exercise— commanding the ‘troops’ to flank left, provide coverage, designate a sniper, etc.,” he notes. “But there are many more games run as team or individual shootouts with little or no organization.” (That sure sounds like what would happen when History Channel fans and gamers play together online.)
Kuma specializes in recreating real combat events as a multiplayer shooter map (and often, with some controversy, conflicts that are still going on), so this particular marriage between game and television is ideal. I have to think we’ll see more of this kind of cross-medium promotions in the future. (Though I really don’t know what to make of the “Sopranos” alternate reality game.)