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Gameplay HD Tackles ‘Madden Challenge’

Gameplay HD is in the game with “EA Sports 2007 Madden Challenge.”

Voom’s high-definition channel devoted to the world of video gaming has created a new TV series capturing the action from competitive tournaments built around Electronic Arts’ popular Madden NFL Football game. Gameplay HD will kick off a seven-part series at 1 p.m. on Feb. 2, the day before Super Bowl XLII.

Produced in the 1080i format and Dolby 5.1 surround sound, the 2007 Madden Challenge presented by Best Buy series will showcase the players via profiles and other segments exploring the culture of the game, as well as coverage of regional tournaments culled from events held in 17 NFL stadiums. The series, now in post-production, culminates with cameras focused on the Dec. 12-13 finals at Universal Studios in Los Angeles, where the 2007 Madden Challenge champion was crowned and awarded $100,000, according to Gameplay HD executive producer Rob Faris.

Best Buy gains TV exposure via signage at the competitive stops and the players sporting jerseys emblazoned with the electronics chain’s logo. Mark DeAngelis, vice president of programming for Gameplay HD, said the parties are working toward pushing promotional materials, touting the series and the service, into Best Buy outlets.

As stout as the football analyst who endorses it, the Madden NFL franchise is now in its 19th year and has sold more than 60 million copies since its introduction. The 2007 iteration ranks as the top-selling video game in North America with some 7 million units, according to EA officials.

“I’m not saying these guys are athletes, but they do train for the event and that comes across in the series,” said DeAngelis. “As a group, they probably view themselves as sports competition guys, not gamers per se.”

Added Faris: “Given the popularity of the Madden game and football in this country, this competition has the biggest opportunity to go mainstream on TV.”

To date, TV segments about the winners have been limited to highlights and tournament winners appearing on local TV stations over the past half-dozen years, according to EA officials.

The HD network’s path to landing the 2007 Madden Challenge tourney began in September 2006, when Gameplay HD executives proposed covering tournaments centered on EA’s Battlefield 2142, a shooting game in which participants elect to fight for one of two military superpowers, the European Union or the Pan Asian Coalition. The result: an eight-part half hour series that premiered last February on the service.

“After 2142, we received a call from EA, saying, ‘We love what you guys did. You have your fingers on the pulse, so let’s create a TV tournament for Madden,’” DeAngelis recalls.

Gameplay HD, thus far, has televised 70 hours of different gaming tournament fare.

In the first one-hour Madden show, Gameplay HD will introduce each of the 24 finalists and how they qualified “on the road to LA” through presentations of their regional tournament wins that took place at NFL venues. For instance, a concourse at Solider Field was the site for competition in the Chicagoland area. Regional tournament fields were whittled from 252 players. Other finalists came from international and Internet gaming ranks.

Subsequently, Gameplay HD will air six half-hour shows combining more feature segments and the action from the tournament brackets, until the ultimate Madden Challenge winner -- the contests play out over a quartet of four-minute quarters -- emerged victorious

For those who don’t get Gameplay HD and the Voom suite of enhanced services, highlights and series clips will appear on EASports.com and GameplayHD.com, after the shows debut on the network.

Teaser material is currently available on those sites and Voom and EA are trying to push out more promotional affair into the online and gaming communities. 

Looking ahead, both parties hold options to continue the arrangement. “We have a strong relationship with EA,” said DeAngelis, who believes that at this stage of the Madden Challenge’s development “people expect to see it on TV. I don’t see us not doing it again.”