Pai: 5G Will Be Game Changer for Gaming

FCC chairman Ajit Pai said he thinks the entertainment category that will see the most 5G-fueled growth is gaming. 

That was one of his main messages in a virtual speech to the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce Thursday (July 9), where he said 5G would mean "no more buffering" or "slow load times" or "midstream interruptions," plus the rise of AR and VR.

The chairman said he agreed with market analyst Matthew Ball that gaming could be the entertainment space’s biggest beneficiary from 5G.  

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Ball argues that gaming's growth is more closely tied to technological changes than TV, movies, or music. While streaming replaced digital downloads, which replaced CDs, which replaced cassettes," Pai said, new tech "unlocks additive growth" in gaming and grows the existing pie rather than replaces it. "Console gaming has held relatively steady for 20-plus years, while PC-gaming has become almost as big as console gaming," Pai said. "Mobile gaming, which didn’t exist 15 years ago, is bigger than both combined. With 5G and other technological advances, like the aforementioned VR, we can expect to see entirely new gaming experiences." 

Pai said that 5G-fueled growth included both for consumers already spending $120 billion per year on digital games worldwide in 2019--three times as much as was spent on movies when folks were still going to them--as well as for the millions watching the gamers gaming as a spectator sport. 

Pai pointed to the esports auto racing carried on major networks when the pandemic scrapped the in-person races. Then there are the 200 million people who log more than 50 billion hours watching gaming content on YouTube annually. Ticking off more stats, he said that Twitch had more than 7 million users who watched over 1.6 billion hours of content.  

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The chairman also pointed to efforts to include esports in international sporting competitions including the Olympics and Asia Games. 

The fact that professional games can earn thousands of dollars a month gives hope to millions of parents, including himself, said Pai, "who have spent the last four months watching their kids play video games seemingly nonstop." 

The ultimate beneficiaries of the growth in gaming will be the marketplace and consumers, he said.   

"CEO Reed Hastings once said that he believes Netflix’s biggest competitor is the video game Fortnite," said Pai. "When Netflix is trying to figure out how to offer a better value proposition than not only cable multisystem operators and other streaming video services, but also video-game makers, all competitors will have to step up their efforts," he said. And while that free market cycle of competition-driven creativity and investment and lower prices may be daunting for media companies, it is great for consumers, he said.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.