Plans Underway for ESPN-Style Esports Network

Traditional sports have ESPN, a network television channel where fans can watch any type of non-digital sport they like. Could there be an ESPN just for esports? A number of gaming luminaries have teamed up to create a TV dedicated just for esports.

The new channel will be called VENN, short for Video Game Entertainment and News Network. VENN has so far raised about $17 million in an initial round of investment funding, the Associated Press reported.

VENN is so far off to a good start, being backed by some of the biggest gaming studios and teams in esports. The first investors include Mike Morhaime, a co-founder of Blizzard Entertainment, Kevin Lin, co-founder of Twitch, Marc Merrill, co-founder of Riot Games, and Team Liquid investor aXiomatic Gaming.

VENN is planned to include live esport events, talk shows, and documentaries. Perhaps veering off the traditional TV format, the channel would host gaming streams as well, much like Twitch or YouTube. There are plans to have about 55 hours original programing per week.

Interestingly enough, VENN won’t compete directly with YouTube or Twitch. The companies have deals to share broadcasts. VENN is expected to have live studios in Los Angeles and New York. Talks are underway to include when on streaming boxes like Sling and Roku.

Gamers mostly keep tabs of esports events online. Fans follow their favorite streamers on social media channels including YouTube and Discord. Viewership in almost entirely online, but it can match TV audiences for major traditional sporting events. In 2018, close to 100 million people watched the League of Legends world championship. The Super Bowl attracted a similar number of TV viewers the same year.

The demand for esports content is rising. However, unlike in traditional sports, the fans are everywhere. Traditional sports have dedicated channels like ESPN, which functions as a one-stop-shop or all major televised sporting events. Esports don’t have a similar equivalent. Fans follow streams on different online platforms, scattering viewership.

The idea behind VENN is to bring all these fans to one channel where they can watch esports live, as replays, or together with other esports-centered content. One of the founders of VENN, Ben Kusin, described the channel as a hybrid of ESPN and MTV’s Total Request Live that was popular over a decade ago. Kusin credited TRL with making music into a cultural event, an accomplishment VENN hopes to reach in esports.

For VENN, notable names in gaming are teaming up with notable names in TV. The other co-founder of VENN is Ariel Horn, an Emmy-winning sports producer who used to work at NBC. In 2017, Horn became famous for landing an AR dragon during the opening ceremony of League of Legends world championship. He also arranged  the Times Square to host a New Year’s Eve stream from the popular gamer Ninja. Horn told AP that he hopes to bring familiar gaming content into a major network platform.

The singular home for esports content could also be a gold mine for advertisers who want to reach this particular target audience. Right now, advertisers have to navigate the confusingly fragmented landscape on esports streaming. VENN could bring all this advertisers money into one place, potentially reaping millions of dollars in an industry estimated to reach a billion dollar market capitalization this year.

VENN would directly target young people, the teenagers and early twenty-somethings that make up the millennial and Gen Z demographics that consume the most gaming content. The name of the network isn’t just an acronym. It’s also a call out to the Venn diagram with intersecting circles. The founders said the network could intersect different industries like fashion, music and other entertainment with gaming, much like what MTV did for youth culture in the nineties.

 

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