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How TV is Changing E3

There is an old myth that Italian dictator Benito Mussolini made the trains in his country run on time. Anyone who has been to Italy knows that trains hardly run on time, and what efforts were made to help modernize the train system had little to do with the Fascists.

But today the fact that the three major press conferences at the Electronic Entertainment Expo are broadcast live on the web and more importantly TV has made those run on time, and not be the endless affairs of the past. A decade ago the press events were run more like a college frat party with a beginning time that ran until…???

This was only made worse because Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft might have said the press conference would begin at say 9am, but in video game hardware manufacturer time that might have meant 9:05am, 9:15am or just sometime before noon. In an industry where “when it’s finished” is typically the release date for a game that was fairly narrow.

And because there was no hard fast end time some companies – I’m talking to you Sony – forgot the rule of bands and comedians; leave them wanting more. It also meant that the press conferences thought they needed Q&A session time. Most press conferences don’t need time for the attendees to ask questions, as it means you probably didn’t give all the facts.

Well, a curious thing happened a few years ago. Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo started to “stream” its press conference on the web. And people watched. Gamers didn’t want to wait for the press to write up the announcements, they wanted to see it firsthand, or at least firsthand via the computer screen. They didn’t mind if it ran late – they could easily go to their refrigerator for a snack. They didn’t mind if it ran long – they could easily go to the bathroom, get another snack or just surf the web during the boring bits.

Then an even more curious thing happened: Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo decided to allow coverage to be broadcast on gaming specific cable channels like G4, and now the press conferences have become something like major sporting events where TV channels fight over the chance to broadcast it! Spike TV now runs the Microsoft event, while G4 carries Sony and Nintendo – along with Electronic Arts and Ubisoft. The two software publishing giants decided they’d do their own press conferences.

While the fact that these are broadcast makes many journalists – including this reporter – wonder why we continue to make the effort to be there when we could watch it from the comfort of our computer, the truth is that there is still an energy you can’t quite experience on the TV screen. Plus for reporters, being there allows immediate follow up with other attendees.

But what the broadcasting of these events has done is make them run on time, and more importantly not run forever. The companies learned they have a lean 90 minutes to tell the most important news, so more long winded discussions about market share, operating capital and vague plans for marketing efforts. Instead the press conferences are actually about news.

So the big mystery… why’d it take broadcasting these things for the companies to do it right?

Peter Suciu is a freelance writer for TWICE.