How the new G4 plans to stand out in the age of Twitch

G4 is back. The iconic TV channel made its official return to air on November 16, both in a traditional cable TV format and on Twitch and YouTube.

It’s a return to the airwaves for a channel that went offline in 2014 after a 12-year airing on US cable television. It was arguably at its peak in the early 2000s as a primarily game-focused channel, with shows like Attack of the Spectacle, X-Play, and American Ninja Warrior, as well as on-air talent that included Adam Sessler, Morgan Webb and Olivia Munn.

G4 has been teasing a return to the airwaves since July 2020, with Sessler set to return alongside covers of Attack on the show and X-Play. Since then, he has slowly built up a new talent pool, ranging from famous players like Xavier Woods to online broadcasters like Gina Darling, Indiana “Froskurinn” Black, Jirard “The Completionist” Khalil and virtual YouTuber CodeMiko.

The first new original show on the network, Party invitation, put the accent on Dungeons & Dragons-live-play style, with B. Dave Walters performing adventures for Ify Nwadiwe (Smosh), Fiona Nova (Rooster Teeth Success hunter), Froskurinn and YouTuber Kassem G.

The day after the network’s official comeback, I sat down with Brian Terwilliger, senior vice president of programming and development at G4 and a behind-the-scenes employee returning from the original G4 race. We discussed G4’s current game plan, its lineup, and how to create a new cable network in 2021.

Brian Terwilliger, Senior Vice President of Programming and Development at G4.

I assumed when you said “cable channel” you meant a traditional 24/7 network. Now, it appears to be mostly on-demand. How it works?

Brian Terwilliger: You are not wrong. Cable channels are programmed as 24/7 linear channels. Twitch and YouTube, every day, will be a live experience lasting several hours. No reruns, never old stuff, new downloads every day.

On traditional linear cable, this is where you get the 24/7, warm and fuzzy, as you remember, programs curated and scheduled, specifically for that audience. We take different approaches depending on the different platforms.

It looks like you are trying to divide the middle between the on-demand system and the more traditional type of “date TV” agreement. How do you arrive at this programming grid in an increasingly post-cable world?

BT: This is an excellent question. I will say, what we look like at launch and what we will look like in 90 days, that’s going to evolve. We know we’re going to learn, we’re going to get feedback on all of our platforms. At the end of the day, we want to be wherever the players are. This is really the story that we tell through our programming.

For Twitch and YouTube, I mentioned never having a rerun and always being live. The way we see this, our main thinking about how this crazy Rube Goldberg content stream works, is that our Twitch and YouTube are the daily live studio recording. If you go to Tonight show recording, madness breaks loose, things break and someone curses. It’s OK, because that’s the living environment for us.

Then for linear and traditional cables, this is where a more organized approach is really needed. Twitch and YouTube don’t all make good TV. They have a lot of interactivity, which is great for these digital platforms, but playing linearly doesn’t quite work.

You saw a lot of them during the pandemic. There were a lot of digital formats just thrown against the wall. We’ve taken that learning and that assessment and really built it into the basis of how you get Attack on the show work. How can this be true for the digital audience? If we’re expecting an audience to grow with us, we need to make sure we’re inclusive, and that includes the younger demo. How do we get the legacy audience, who are probably watching us on these more traditional platforms?

Over time, we’ll learn more about who’s looking where and what we might find. We are delighted to learn. But our central thesis is that our digital is live recording, our rawest form, all the fun, all the mistakes, all the ugly stuff, and then we clean it up and it becomes a beautiful virgin TV show.

It makes sense. I guess that also explains the “we don’t know what we’re doing” aspect of your media presence. When you look at the website, you feel like you don’t quite know what’s going on.

BT: That’s right. This is who we are. G4 has always been a comedic brand, and it turns out that games, tech, and gadgets were what it applied to. This is really the most important thing. These are comedy brands that we believe embody the same shenanigans and sensibilities that are expressed in our products.

It’s just who we are. It’s not just the brand’s campaign. We’ll always be the first to recognize we’re terrible, we’ll say we stink, we’ll be the first to hit ourselves. I think that defines G4, that’s what makes it accessible. We don’t have an ego. G4 can laugh at himself first.

it reminds me a bit of the original Muppets show, that spit-and-baller-thread community theater feel.

BT: Yes. Yes!

What drew you to the talent you picked for the relaunch? It’s that interesting mix of personalities from Twitch, YouTubers, and a few returning people like Adam Sessler.

BT: As someone who worked at the original G4, it’s no secret: G4 was very White.

If you look at our distribution now, our G4 distribution today represents all players. I can say this with a full heart and complete sincerity. This is who the gamer audience is. We are representative of all origins, all sexualities, all genders. It’s really important. It’s one of those things where, if you look back, G4 could have been better. We didn’t necessarily have all the parts we needed.

The idea is that G4 represents the industry, the very specific areas of interests and passions of each. We have people who love esports, people who love cosplay, we have tables. The world has changed. You look at our list, it’s deep and dynamic. Because they’re successful Twitch streamers with those really deep passion points, it’s genuine. You can’t be a successful Twitch streamer by being inauthentic, you just can’t.

It’s about figuring out who we want to be in 2021, and as we find our place in 2022, as our programming evolves and we start to cover events and we come back to all the things that the people expect G4 to participate. At the old G4, Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes did a weekly movie review they didn’t need to come and do. They did it because they wanted to be on G4 and have fun.

Our programming is essentially our talent, putting our ideas together. We have the right people in play, and they want to create.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

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