There was a day when broadcast television was the master of entertainment. It regulated our home-based options and dominated what we could see and when. It was our analog overlord, growing and ever expanding as new options in technology begat new options for entertainment.
But things have changed along with our options. The TV is simply the receptacle, and the means to display the content coming from several mediums. It is the portal to which we pour much of our entertainment hopes and dreams. Perhaps your choice for visual stimulation comes from a digital cable box with a built in DVR that allows you to watch TV programming whenever you like. Maybe it comes from your PC, streaming video through one of dozens of means. Or maybe you are watching a reality show via your PlayStation 3.
That last example is not a common occurrence, but it is one that has shown a decent amount of success. Since the release of the PlayStation 3, Sony has introduced a handful of original entertainment shows designed to be viewed exclusively through its PlayStation Network. The bulk of the entertainment offerings were short, news-like clips covering what was going on in the world of gaming. It was a success, but not a truly compelling one. That’s where The Tester came in.
Tonight the third season of the show will air its finale, and a winner will be named. For those that aren’t familiar with it, The Tester is a reality competition that debuted and until recently aired exclusively on the PlayStation Network. Each week a new episode would chronicle a group of 12 competitors (11 in the first season) as they competed in events ranging from video game competitions, to obstacle courses, to everything in between. The contestants of the first two seasons had the chance to win cash and prizes, with the champion going on to a job with Sony as a game tester.
“The idea for the show itself came from the testers working at Sony, who have earned a reputation for their passion.” Kevin Furuichi, Executive Producer of original programming for the PlayStation Network said. “These guys are diehard gamers, they are dedicated to the product, and they are involved in the culture itself, and there is just some funny stuff with the guys that work there.”
“What if we put them in a house and had a camera around them?” He wondered. “What would happen?”
The show got off to a rocky start, as it proved more difficult than initially thought to spread the word of the show and let people know where and how to view it. But even as it began to gain exposure, the naysayers emerged. It wasn’t surprising either, especially regarding the nature of the show involving video games, where the winner of a contest received a highly sought after job doing exactly what all the fans of the show were already doing in their spare time. But slowly things began to change.
The first season was a learning experience for The Tester’s producers, who then took what they learned and used it to build the second season. The shows increased in length, the production values improved, and the team found a better way to promote the show within the network. In general things just went smoother. By the end of season two, the show had seen a 45-percent increase from the previous year and was a bona fide hit for Sony.
“As the season started to progress, on blogs and forums people started to say things like ‘Hey you gotta check it out, this guy isn’t going to make it to week three, and I don’t like so and so.’” Furuichi said. “All that virtual water cooler talk started to happen in the first season and more so in the second season, which was great.”
The viewership numbers have been fairly remarkable, and the second season was downloaded over 3.5 million times, giving it an average viewership of 350,000 viewers per episode. By ratio, considering the number of PS3s in the world compared to the number of cable boxes, that would rank The Tester among the highest rated cable TV shows on air, and would have it competing with shows like The Walking Dead and Justified, among others.
Bolstered by that success, when season three began on February 7, from the start it was obvious that it would be the biggest by far.
As you might expect of any new season of a reality competition, the challenges are more intricate and outrageous, and the guests are bigger names in the industry. But the show will also have a bigger reach, as it will now be available on platforms other than the PS3, including the PSP, the Vita, and most significantly on PlayStation.com.
The winners of the first two seasons were both awarded jobs with Sony as game testers. But beyond the job itself, the position can be an open door into Sony with almost unlimited potential. After working as a tester, season one winner, Will “Cyrus” Powers now works in Sony’s Public Relations department, while the second season champ, Matthew “Gaymer” Brown took a job with Sony Pictures as a marketing coordinator.
This season the winner will also receive $5,000, a 55-inch Bravia TV, a PS3, and a 2012 Ford Focus Titanium. But most importantly, the job on the line has changed. Rather than starting work as a game tester, the winner will become a Production Associate at Sony’s Santa Monica Studios (the makers of the God of War franchise, among many others).
Everything was bigger this season, including the online casting call. Over 30,000 people registered on the online site, giving the producers the largest possible pool of contestants ever. There was also an online competition where the fans could back a contestant of their own to enter the house.
Once the casting dust settled, the show was left with twelve competitors, six male and six female. Now eight weeks later the final three competitors remain and tonight a winner will be selected. Thanks to the online nature of the program though, you can start from the beginning and watch the season from start to finish at any time.
“For our perspective it was great to see all these gamers–this engaged community–involved early on before we even really talked about what we were going to do with the season,” Furuichi said.
Part of the reason for the success of the show has to be attributed to how the producers decided to approach creating a show specifically for a digital distribution platform. They ignored it.
The producers approached the show as they would approach any other show of this nature. That may seem obvious in hindsight, but it is one more step in the continual growth of the industry. Although The Tester is a show steeped in gaming, it wants to be remembered as a good show—not just a good gaming show.
Beyond what The Tester is and the success it has had for Sony, the show is important for what it may be. There is an obvious movement towards turning home consoles into all-in-one entertainment devices. So far Microsoft has led the way on that front, signing numerous exclusive deals with content providers, but few have considered creating content that could compete with a traditional television show specifically for the consoles.
If The Tester can continue to put up the numbers that it has, and continue to find success with the proper demographics, it could be remembered as the first of its kind, and others will follow.
The Tester concludes its season tonight, and a fourth is already all but guaranteed. Tune in/turn on tonight for the third season finale, and pay special attention to the show’s medium. You may see it often in the future.