LOS ANGELES – U.S. movie theater chain National Amusements Inc. is bringing a live video gaming tournament sponsored by a News Corp. division to a Los Angeles theater this weekend in a first for an industry seeking new ways to fill empty seats.
National Amusements would be the first U.S. theater chain to tap into the $30 billion global video game market by staging a type of gaming that is enormously popular in Asia.
The tournament, held by the newly formed Championship Gaming Series (CGS) professional league, aims to qualify gamers for its first draft of professional video gaming teams.
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"In Korea, they have taken gaming and really made it into an incredible sports entertainment experience. I am hoping this will lead to what is happening over there," said CGS Chief Executive and Commissioner Andy Reif.
The league is sponsored by DirecTV Group Inc. (DTV), British satellite group BSkyB and STAR in Asia and Australia.
News Corporation (NWS) owns almost 40 percent of satellite broadcasters DirecTV and BSkyB and STAR is a wholly-owned unit of News Corp.
The league will provide programming to more than 100 million households worldwide via the News Corp cable and satellite providers.
National Amusements aims to host other CGS events as it tests the concept of video gaming arenas, called CyGamZ, adjacent to its theaters.
Company President Shari Redstone, who comes out of her father Sumner Redstone's Viacom company, told Reuters that National Amusements sees alternative forms of entertainment such as video game tournaments luring more people to theaters and to CyGamZ.
"I want to be (a) community entertainment destination. I believe it will grow my core business and assist in growing revenue," Redstone said.
Moreover, she said boosting video game play overall, should aid the company's video game maker, Midway Games (MWY).
MOVIE FOE OR FRIEND?
Video games and other in-home entertainment have been blamed for helping to erode U.S. movie theater admissions, which peaked in 2002 at 1.63 billion before sliding back to 1.45 billion last year.
U.S. box office revenue reached a record $9.53 billion in 2004 before falling into a two-year trough and only partially recovering last year.
In the meantime, stadium-style gaming has boomed in Asia, where professional gamers enjoy rock-star status and draw tens of thousands of spectators to competitions.
Theater owners and video game makers share the same core audience — teens and young men. So, the idea is to draw them into theaters with two forms of entertainment they enjoy, as opposed to losing them to home gaming systems.
National Amusements, the parent company of Viacom Inc. (VIA) and CBS Corp. (CBS), has been among the most experimental chains in finding uses for its more than 1,500 U.S. and overseas screens when movies aren't playing.
The chain brought live baseball games to East Coast theaters starting with the 2001 World Series, and has offered live entertainment including standup comedy, vaudeville-style shows and music at its theaters.
"One of the things I'm trying to do is really have niche demographic programming. I think we can no longer look at moviegoing as a generic experience," Redstone said.
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