How do you celebrate the return of a niche channel that didn’t have a good following in the first place?
Last Friday, during the virtual San Diego Comic-Con event, the former video-game TV network G4 announced that it is coming back with some kind of relaunch next year by its parent company Comcast.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the legacy G4, back in the mid-2000s, G4 was a gaming network largely carried by its flagship shows Attack of the Show! and X-Play.
Fans of the channel are excited about the possibility of these shows making a return in 2021 but the move is considered risky by Comcast when you consider that many service providers didn’t see the value in G4 10 years ago.
To understand the true history of G4 and the networks that preceded it, we have to go back to the early 2000s to explain exactly how we go to this moment.
G4 began back in the outlaw days of Digital Cable on April 24, 2002. In the early 2000s, the novelty of having thousands of channels to watch was strong. The idea behind G4 was simple, a network for gamers by gamers. In many ways, G4 was years ahead of it’s time as the outlaw days popularized content such as multiple player competitions and gaming news years before they were readily available.
G4 began it’s run with low budget shows such as the Arena, a show that predates modern esport competitions pitting two teams against each other in gaming battles.
Other popular shows including G4TV.com which was an interactive talk shows about gaming that had a loyal following in online forums.
G4 had a solid premise but the problem lies with the network’s outreach. In its early days, G4 was only available in roughly 15 million households as digital cable was still in its infancy. Comcast lacked the financial backing to commit more money into content that could grow the network. With a small budget and limited outreach to potential viewers, G4 was staring down the barrel of a very short peak.
That is where Tech TV comes in.
Much like G4, Tech TV was a digital network that focused on the same demographic G4 wanted to reach but instead of gaming, their focus was on technology and the internet. Tech TV was also a network before it’s time as the world of internet podcasting and PC building was years before peak popularity.
However, Tech TV had two things that G4 did not; programming and outreach. One of TechTV’s flagship programs was X-Play. X-Play host Morgan Webb and Adam Sessler popularized video games reviews with humorous skits and analysis.
Another Tech TV original was The Screen Savers, a show originally centered on computers and technology, grew a large following as one of the networks top shows.
Tech TV had built up a solid catalog of original shows, entertaining personalities, and due to their deal with DirectTV, Tech TV has 4x the outreach of G4. With syndicated shows Anime Unleashed, Robot Wars UK, and Unscrewed with Martin Sargent; Tech TV had created a solid fanbase with many fans that remain to this day.
Tech TV and G4 were two of the biggest new networks on the rise in 2003. However, that would change when Tech TV owner, Microsoft Billionaire Paul Allen had other plans outside of running the network. On March 25, 2004, Comcast purchased Tech TV from Vulcan Ventures and announced that G4 and TechTV would merge to become G4TechTV.
Initially, when the announcement of the merger created endless possibilities for the two fan bases. With the best of both worlds, G4TechTV reached its peak with a variety of shows that poised the network to be the new hub for the 18-34 demographic.
However, internal politics quickly brought the network’s inspirations down to reality. Within one year of Tech TV’s purchase, G4 has fired the majority of Tech TV employees from the San Francisco office and moved the operation to Los Angeles. X-Play was the only Tech TV show that remained on the network as The Screen Savers was rebranded as Attack of The Show, a nightly show that focused more on pop culture than technology.
By 2005, G4TechTV had rebranded once again to become simply G4. Comcast had gotten what it needed, an increased outreach to increase advertising revenue but in the process abandoned what had gotten them to the dance, entertaining programming. Fans of TechTV was furious as they realized that Comcast had no intention of creating the gaming and tech giant that had envisioned in the previous year. Tech TV and its legacy had died and G4 had other plans for the growing network.
While G4 began to rise in relevance in the world of pop culture, the fall of the network had already begun. By 2007, G4 became a channel that largely relied on syndication. The network was heavily criticized as the majority of its 24-hour programming relied on shows such as Cops and Cheaters.
As X-Play and Attack of The Show became its main focus, G4 became desperate for new content to keep audiences engaged and advertisers happy. They even began replaying older shows from its outlaw days to keep viewers happy but it just wasn’t enough to keep the interest of those shafted by the network’s potential in the early half of the decade.
A two-show network simply didn’t interest fans and a 20-hour block of Cheaters wasn’t keeping anyone from changing the channel. By the late half of the decade, the novelty of expansion cable channels has worn off completely. As cable prices increased, consumers wanted one thing, quality. By 2010, G4 was creatively bankrupt.
The end was near and DirectTV finally had enough. On November 1, 2010, DirecTV announced that it had removed G4 from its channel lineup and Time Warner soon followed. DirectTV cited low viewership including the brutal condemnation that the service provider saw no value in the network for its customers.
Five years was all it took for the network to go from its peak to rock bottom. Comcast attempted to sell the network but could not find a buyer interested in a failing network. On October 26, 2012, it was announced that X-Play and Attack of the Show! would be discontinued by the end of the year. Comcast had announced that they were going to rebrand the network but those plans failed by year’s end. X-Play and Attack of the Show! aired their final original episodes on January 23, 2013 and the network officially became a dead brand. Comcast officially pulled G4’s plug on December 31, 2014, ten years after the initial G4TechTV merger.
Much has happened since the death of the gaming network. In February 2012, former G4 alum Chris Hardwick created Nerdist Industries, a successful podcast network that has filled most of the void in the pop culture universe left by G4’s absence.
In the gaming world, outlets such as Youtube and Twitch have led to a rise of esports, let’s play, gaming news, and original content in the last decade. If G4 is looking to return to prominence in 2021, they have to deal with a radically different atmosphere than they had in 2004. What was once considered niche has now become mainstream, so much so the market has become somewhat saturated.
As of this writing, G4 is returning to the table with X-Play and Attack of The Show reboots. How will two shows that couldn’t find an audience 12 years ago be effective in finding them today? There are still many questions to be answered about G4’s planned restart but if Comcast doesn’t want a repeat of the failures they experienced in the 2000s, they are going to need a lot more than nostalgia to find success in today’s age of tech and gaming.