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How NBCU plans to scale social gaming across its TV brands

This week NBCU announced it was rolling out a new social gaming platform across its TV brands. Called the Universal Games Network, or UGN, the idea grew out of USA Network’s success with the Character Arcade. Fans can play games, unlock content, win reward points and redeem them for real and virtual goods. And it’s all connected with Facebook. We were curious how the platform will work across NBCU, so we interviewed Jesse Redniss, SVP of Digital for the USA Network brand properties.

Lost Remote: What worked so well with Character Arcade? Can you share a few numbers?

Jesse Redniss: Character Arcade (below) really became a new community offering for the Characters Welcome brand. Through the implementation of an affinity platform and Facebook Connect Integration to enable direct player-to-player challenging on the site and on Facebook, we started to drive a lot of new users, and repeat visitors into the community. To date, we’ve registered over 1.5 million players through organic sharing and challenging. We also kept Character Arcade highly curated and focused through the Characters Welcome brand lens, which created a unique gaming environment for our fans.

LR: When did you begin to see potential in growing the idea across the organization?

Redniss: The nature of gaming is sharing, if not competing, so it was an idea from the start over 5 years ago and grew as social gaming took off. USA’s Character Arcade was an experiment in user engagement and leveraging different types of content to immerse a viewer/user in a familiar brand that they are passionate about. In this case, the demographic and psychographic watching our then on the air USA hit shows Monk and PSYCH were a perfect fit for the casual gamer. By creating fun casual games that brought to virtual life the quirky OCD tendencies of Monk, fans were able to dive deeper into that character and figuratively BE the Character. These games really took off in popularity and the Original MONK’s Mind Game became a worldwide hit with over 13 million plays in the course of its first year. The game became a funnel of traffic back to the core Monk property and hopefully we converted some game fans into Monk TV show watchers. As our approach grew, we aggregated all of our games into one destination that became Character Arcade and it started generating a lot of page views and time of engagement of 19 minutes per user visit.

This wasn’t the first use of games at NBCU as many networks have used this approach for years, but launching an aggregated, scalable approach, building our own game engines and IP, integrating FaceBook Connect to socially charge the platform and building in an affinity platform was the goal. When we saw that success, we wanted to share it across our sister networks.

LR: How will UGN work across NBCU’s brands?

Redniss: The beauty of the platform is to provide a flexible model that each brand can really control and manage as part of their overall brand positioning. This way, the game environment stays true to their brand look and feel as well as customized to their user base. On the back end, the UGN platform will provide a consistent Content Management System, Ad Integration system, Identity and Affinity system across all of the brands. This will enable us to look at casual and social gaming on a holistic level as well as provide the ability to drill down and parse out certain data and user segments to gain a better understanding of each individual player. We can then go back to the ad community with a story about true reach across the horizontal network.

We will also be able to realize content development efficiencies by building gaming engines that can be easily re-skinned and deployed across multiple properties at once, maintaining that particular brand look and feel, but having similar back end engines powering the games.

LR: When and where will we begin to see it?

Redniss: Going through the summer, we anticipate at least six major properties going live, if not more. From a USA perspective, we are also upgrading Character Arcade to the new platform in June.

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