Games: From Board to Tube

Expect to see Hasbro turning many more of its famous brands into television and film properties, says Mark Itkin, executive vice president and co-head of television for the William Morris Agency.

Over the past month, Pawtucket, R.I.-based Hasbro, the country's No. 2 toy manufacturer behind Mattel, has partnered with two syndicators on two projects. The company is teaming with syndicator Debmar-Mercury to produce, market and distribute a TV version of its popular board game, Trivial Pursuit, which is now entering its 25th year in the market. Trivial Pursuit: America Plays will premiere in first-run syndication next fall.

Hasbro also is creating the at-home game version of Program Partners' Merv Griffin's Crosswords, which will be available in 2008. “Having Hasbro involved reinforces the notion that this is an infectious game and one that is easy to play,” says Josh Raphaelson, one of Program Partners' principals. “And it will bring an extra marketing platform for the show.”

In the coming months and years, Itkin says Hasbro will be moving “very aggressively into all of the TV markets—primetime network, cable and syndication, as well into multi-platform.”

Before it announced its two syndication plays, Hasbro had come off a very successful partnership with film studio Paramount on Michael Bay's Transformers, based on Hasbro's popular brand of toys. The movie so invigorated the toy line that retailers can hardly keep them in stock.

Looking ahead, Hasbro is hoping to do the same thing with GI Joe, the action figure for boys that the company introduced in 1964. The company is again partnering with Paramount on a movie that's due out in 2009.

In syndication, Hasbro so far seems focused on games, and Hasbro's library includes some of the country's favorites, such as Monopoly, Pictionary, Scrabble and Risk. Beyond already being well-branded, the games lend themselves perfectly to the multiplatform formats stations currently covet.

“The budgets for first-run productions are so tight these days that game shows like Trivial Pursuit can give you another revenue stream,” says Itkin.

Veteran game shows already are starting to add Web features for their station partners, such as Jeopardy! EXP, a simple online game created by Harry Friedman, Jeopardy!'s executive producer. And Friedman says he's working on a mobile, interactive version of the game so viewers can play right along with the televised version.

Syndicators and stations are excited about game shows right now because they have proved popular in primetime and they extend themselves more easily to mobile or broadband extensions than court or talk, daytime's two most prevalent formats.

“There's clearly an opportunity in daytime for games,” says Ira Bernstein, co-president of Debmar-Mercury. “When you look at the business, there's talk, court and game and that's kind of it. In general, the business of launching a $30 million talk show and hoping that you don't lose $10 million isn't really our business.

“In court—with one or two exceptions—you are in a box. From our perspective, court doesn't have a lot of upside. But game is really the one genre that crosses over all these areas. You can't point to another genre of programming that has the cost factor of game, versatility to air in many different dayparts and applicability across a variety of platforms.”

Debmar-Mercury, Hasbro and production company Wheeler-Sussman also plan to capitalize on existing models of interactivity to give Trivial Pursuit: America Plays an up-to-the-minute feel. Like the CNN-YouTube debates that aired last week, people from across the country will submit trivia questions to the show on TV stations' local Websites. Those questions will be used to play the game, with submitters offered the chance to win some money if their question is chosen. Tying the game into stations' Websites allows them to sell local advertising around the game, making it more attractive to pick up the show.

Trivial Pursuit will be more interactive than any show that's been on TV recently,” says Bernstein, who plans to take the show—and Hasbro's media presence—worldwide.

“This will be the first time we've sold a show internationally,” he says. “This is a great show to have worldwide. Whether you are in Germany, Sweden, France, everyone knows what this game is.”

Paige Albiniak

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.