How G4 Could Have Been Handled Better
Let me just start off by saying how painful it is that G4 is no longer around. As a fan of the new shows, someone who had been paying close attention since the 2020 announcement, who was a weekly viewer of AOTS, Name Your Price, Hey Donna, and the other smaller shows, and someone who went out of their way to get Philo to have G4 linear on launch day, simply put, it’s a real bummer that the network is no more. As a Communications major who has a fascination with the various media (the plural of medium) of communications, I was excited to see how a network like G4 with a hybrid cable and internet approach could pull off being viable in a time where even streaming services that were hot just a few years ago are finding themselves struggling. Especially cable these days.
And TL;DR, it didn’t work out.
G4 started its life after its summer 2020 announcement with B4G4 in January 2021: where the few announced hosts could get the audience geared up for the kind of live streaming content G4 had in mind for Twitch and YouTube, with some YouTube clips uploaded. Then in summer 2021, G4 rolled out the G4 Beach House, taking place in a generic office space with joke logos on the wall showing a fictitious generic business that G4 took the space of. The joke CEO featured in the Beach House lore was Jerry_XL, an inept unprepared manager who took credit for everything, including the office space. The Beach House was a way to get the rest of the announced hosts in one space to see how their chemistry aligned with each other and getting them and the audience ready for hosting the network. The overall sense of humor during the live streams was so great and I was excited to see where G4 was going. In seeing the space, although it was generic on purpose, my hope was when G4 officially launched, maybe they would spruce it up for the actual shows to keep that intimate feel (and to keep costs down), whatever they would end up being. During this time, we didn’t know that the office space was the real-life temporary home of G4. We didn’t know if the shows from the past would come back. We had no idea when the network would actually launch or where G4 would ultimately end up.
The Beach House streams wrapped up in the beginning of October, and on October 12, 2022, we finally had an actual date for the official relaunch. We found out it would be on cable and streaming on YouTube and Twitch. And finally, on November 16, 2022, the G4 launch live stream aired, and we all got to see what the new G4 would be, the shows that were being produced, and, most importantly, the massive clearly expensive studio space that G4 would work and perform in.
And when I saw that massive facility, I knew there was going to be some rough waters ahead. I had my guesses on a price figure that Comcast could have spent on building up the space, but I never would have imagined that they would spend around $30,000,000 solely for G4. That money of course had to pay for production facilities, like professional-grade cameras across four studios, lighting, and all that is needed for the control rooms and editing. That’s all understandable as that is the bread and butter of the business. But during the launch, you could see about a hundred staff members who worked in the building behind the hosts watching. And when you looked around the building in the launch stream, it was just a lot. The lobby featured a $10,000 gaming station for one player. Off to the right, there was a room filled with gaming computers and gaming chairs designed for parties. Both of which were seldom used and weren’t even meant for broadcasting from. The building had 90 unused gaming chairs at the ready for some reason. And the studio spaces were just gigantic. They certainly looked great and very much fit for television, but I knew looking at all of that, Comcast was expecting some very high ratings to justify the large overhead. Especially since the network just started less than a year ago and was very much in growth.
And history could have been used as an indicator of how things happened before. The original G4 had its own space similar to what the new G4 had. Not to the same extravagant extent, but at least the studios had a similar size and look to them. And it wasn’t economically feasible. When Neal Tiles took over as President of G4 in 2005, the network was losing $30,000,000 annually. Hence the pivot away from exclusively video game and tech programming. Eventually Comcast grouped all its non-sports networks under the Comcast Entertainment Group, and in 2007, G4 was moved into the E! facility, and Chelsea Handler’s late-night E! show took over G4’s former building. G4’s last big studio shows Attack of the Show and X-Play were in one studio split between the two shows’ sets. Cable networks today have to split studio and office space between other networks in the company, often in one building, with staff shared between other networks, sometimes even entire cable divisions. And G4 was supposed to survive on its own with a set of staff and building all for just G4? If the new G4 could’ve taken over a much more modest space to build itself with shared NBCUniversal staff, that would’ve at least given them more room to grow as to not justify a multi-million dollar space for a brand that unfortunately may have been away for too long.
When G4’s revival was announced in 2020, it had been 18 years since it debuted on cable, 15 years since it had swallowed up the more popular TechTV in order to grow G4’s reach substantially while angering their fans, and 8 years since G4 went away. And it really felt like the brand was the sole marketing to revive the network, as there wasn’t much marketing beyond press releases on news websites. G4 seemed to think more of its original fans would come back to supplement the new viewers it would need to grow, but the viewership did not return as much as they expected. During G4’s 10 year run, it had become a polarizing brand that served as an example of network decay like MTV. It had its fans as several shows still aired within the realm of programming for geeks and did well enough for the network. But with reruns of Cops and Cheaters to raise the ratings and an overall shift to mimic Spike TV, it left a bad taste for gamers and tech fans who had learned to shift to the internet for more reliably geeky content, even during G4’s original run. Since it went away at the end of 2012, the internet and television changed dramatically. Online brands that had once been the destinations for geeks like Revision3, Machinima, and IGN either went away or faded as viewers moved from watching their favorite companies to watching their favorite creators. And frankly, had G4 relaunched a year or two after the signal shut off at the end of 2014, maybe it could have used its brand to finally deliver fully the content its viewers had been waiting for, but that did not happen.
That’s not to say brands can’t come back and exist in today’s landscape. YouTubers certainly have built brands expanding beyond the founder, like Linus Tech Tips and his network of YouTube channels. And many of the contestants on G4’s Name Your Price were members of other brands similar to G4 on Twitch. Maker Studios, the YouTube network co-founded by several YouTubers like G4 host Kassem G found great success in turning their network into a multi-multi-million dollar acquisition by Disney. However, the other part of having a brand is having a mission statement, something viewers can easily explain what G4 was, but the new G4 barely had one. It just felt like G4’s return was the message, but that just doesn’t translate after years of brand decay, and so many years off the air with a generation of viewers who don’t have the same connection that older audiences may have had, if the original G4 was something they could even receive. But you can’t say the new G4 didn’t try. I would just argue that in addition to its massive overhead, the distribution model and lack of communication from the company may also have had a hand in its second demise.
It’s 2021, and G4 announces it will come back as a cable channel and live stream on Twitch and YouTube. What does that mean? Well, the shows will record on Twitch and YouTube in their raw and uncut form, and the G4 cable channel will get the refined and edited versions fit within a nice round amount of time of about an hour or two. And the shows and people announced working with G4 for content will either see it show up as a live streamed show, or as syndicated content for the cable channel, and eventually a Pluto TV channel with its content being delayed a few weeks from what you’d see on cable. For example, AOTS records live on Wednesdays. That means it will show up in your Twitch and YouTube feeds as a live stream, and then the next day, it shows up as an edited video for the AOTS YouTube channel, and then airs at 6:30PM on G4 linear. Then a few weeks later it shows up on G4 Select on Pluto TV. And syndicated shows like Ninja Warrior and Scott the Woz show up on linear first, and then a few weeks later on G4 Select.
Now for me, I can follow along with this easily; mostly because I am insane. But it wasn’t uncommon for people to express confusion in the G4 Reddit and Discord on how to watch G4. There was also a decent number of people who either thought G4 lived exclusively on cable or didn’t even know there was a cable channel. Some had heard about Ninja Warrior coming back and wondered why it wasn’t showing up on Twitch and YouTube. And for a person like me who just wanted to support the new G4, I often wondered where G4 would most rather I watch the shows for the best return for them. I would assume the answer was on cable, but the cable airing had a lot of things from the live stream cut out for legal, time, or content reasons. Plus, the YouTube upload was immediately available, so for watching G4 original shows, watching them on cable didn’t make a ton of sense. Except for Xplay, whose cable airings most closely resembled the original show, and the YouTube airings were uncut and not the same at all, thus furthering the confusion. Plus, the shows that weren’t Ninja Warrior, like Scott the Woz and Smosh were just the same videos you could find on YouTube but on television and cut for a half-hour timeslot. Personally, I’m a fan of a linear format as you can just turn it on and sort of have it as background noise or just for that nostalgic feel for how TV used to be. But G4 on cable wasn’t a must-have destination unless you really like Ninja Warrior, the other similar Ninja Warrior shows, and Starcade.
Plus, a lot of people even questioned why G4 was even on cable again in the first place, especially seeing as Peacock was starting up and G4 was a corporate sibling to Peacock. And that’s because cable still makes an obscene amount of money. There’s a reason why cable channels still exist, cable programming is still being made, and why sports broadcasts are still on cable. Because it makes a lot of money. For a cable channel like G4 to appear on the channel guide of your cable operator, the operator has to pay G4 per each cable subscriber that operator has. The original G4 commanded $.05 per subscriber. In total, the new G4 was in around 20,000,000 total cable homes. If they still make $.05 per subscriber, that’s $1,000,000 every month G4 receives. And that’s before they factor in advertising revenue, which cable networks have a much easier time achieving than online streaming services. Plus, if G4 is just a part of Peacock, the $5–10 per month a user spends on the service goes to the whole Peacock, not just G4. So, if you’re going to have that massive overhead G4 had, cable can make a lot of money.
While I can say safely that for the growth of the network, cable was a bad decision for the long term, it was the best short term they could have to grow the network. But that comes with its own issues. Because they receive so much money from cable, cable must be a priority in the operation. Meaning that shows and live streams had to be packaged for both cable and live streaming, which is not easy. It pushes the network in a corner that doesn’t allow for the same level of innovation that the Beach House demonstrated. It also doesn’t allow for much communication from G4 on where shows will be, or if they were cancelled, as they didn’t want to scare cable operators who could at any point drop the network from their lineup if they felt G4 wasn’t pushing people to cable. So, information on where shows would be, if they were even coming back, and just a lot of things that could’ve been useful to know were not expressed because you can’t scare the cable operators.
But it all comes back to the facility they built to operate G4 out of. Because while they had to cater to cable, live streaming was also still a priority for the network as that is where the viewers mostly live. When the network first launched, they had stream blocks and streaming-only content that Twitch users really enjoyed watching. But the operation was built for television, with unions and an old-fashioned way of doing things. Meaning, every time they live streamed from a studio, it had to be run by bunch of union staff who had to be paid, so it was costly to live stream content for hours. You can’t just have the talent operating the show, especially because none of the equipment was in the studio for them to have a one-person show. Eventually as the layoffs occurred, the shows left the studio and were streamed from the office space where employees worked. That probably allowed for the shows to be run by one person as they don’t have to run a full studio. If G4 didn’t have to run a cable network, they could’ve done what TWiT did. They leased an office space, spent a few million dollars for sets, equipment, and infrastructure, but it was built with relatively inexpensive cameras that still look great, sets that could match what you’d find on television, and a one-person board operator to handle video switching, audio, and lighting for a lot less money.
It boils down to several things. There was no one reason, or one person, that took down G4. It was just not executed well enough by the executives in charge. But the hosts and staff who worked on the shows clearly gave their all to make G4. I will miss the content that came out of the network, and the style and sense of humor. Perhaps had the network started a few years earlier, operated out of cheaper space, and hadn’t been put on cable, the network would have had more time and money to grow. I believe there’s a place for television-like programming on the internet. I just don’t think the way G4 was built was designed with a fully thought-out plan. The good news is I got to discover a bunch of great people from G4 and will be following them wherever they decide to go.