VENN – Review: More TV on Livestream

Recently this week, VENN launched with a host of content and programs revolving around gaming, popular streamers, talent and entertainment. From news segments to Let’s Plays, deep-dive discussions on fitness training, sexuality and cosplaying, VENN hits as many fanbases as it can.

I’ve taken the liberty to watch every single show on VENN to learn more about its content, style, appeal and challenges it faces. My main interest was to see how VENN differentiated itself from previous iterations of gaming channels/platforms such as GINX, G4 and my own project, ESGNTV. Secondly, I wanted to provide feedback of its content experience both as a consumer as well as a producer stemming from my media background working on streaming platforms, esports TV studios, digital esports magazines and press publishing companies.

ESGN: Neuer eSport TV-Sender startet global von Berlin aus | TopFree.de
Despite its controversies, my time at ESGN & ESGN TV brought a lot of experience and understanding in how much work and collaboration is required to host, shoot and produce a live-streamed professional show. If only I was paid for the last few months of it…

Announcement & Launch

When VENN made headlines across a variety of major news outlets, the goals of its content was three parts:

  • Founders Ariel Horn and Ben Kusin created VENN to fill in the gaps in esports and gaming content that they believe came about as publishers focused on keeping up with industry demands” – CNBC, 2019
  • Unlike with traditional TV networks, Kusin said he and Horn know how to make gaming content that younger audiences will enjoy.” – LATimes, 2019
  • The first and biggest goal is to create content that you love. Our focus is entirely on supporting and lifting up creators. We hope to do this by giving them the tools to buff what they already do and take it to new heights. We’ll be asking y’all how we’re doing so never hesitate from giving me feedback at arielhorn on twitter.” – AMA, 2020

*additional reading: USA Today, PRNewsWire, Variety

At launch, the network launched seven shows (eight if you count Sushi Dragon’s segments separately) ranging from daily news (The Download), Game Shows with Contestants (Dare Package) and Talk Shows (Guest House, VENN Arcade Live, Grey Area, The Sushi Dragon Show). Shows range between 45 minutes to almost 2 hours and host a variety of guests ranging from streamers, musical talent, celebrities and more. At launch, the platform boasted over 30 hours streamed, 24,000 hours watched, 245,000 unique viewers and a 7K+ peak concurrent viewership (though this peak has long been surpassed by now)

Feedback

Overall, VENN has a strong established repertoire of content, varied hosts, tapped markets and interests, and broadcasting overall has been smooth. The set designs are immensely different from one another and set the tone of what to expect from each show in terms of energy, vibe and atmosphere.

Having watched each show, I have found most of them to be entertaining. Personally, my favourite shows are the following:

1. VENN Arcade Live: Lively stage design, nice variety of hosts and good rotation of content keeps the show fresh and lively. The stage design feels much tighter, close-knit and comfortable as opposed to other shows where it struggles to fill some empty gaps of spacing. The hosts are professional, amicable and play off one another for the most part. The rhythm of the show maintains a consistency in content, conversation, pacing that is close to traditional television live shows. As one form of feedback, I’d recommend creating pre-recorded scripted game introductions for the games they’re about to play to guide the user into better understanding what is going on when they play.

2. Grey Area: If it were not for COVID-19 separating the guests and hosts from being near each other, Grey Area would be at the top of my list for its overall relaxing vibe, comfortable hosts and laid-back topics. Since corona is still on-going, the stage feels a bit empty and heavily spaced apart. That said, compared to the other shows that can occasionally feel similar in their tone and conversation, Grey Area comes across mature, or rather, the hosts speak with an experience that they’ve been around the block socially and professionally. One point of criticism is to perhaps start pre-recording the calls to ensure no technical difficulties (which has occurred numerous times on the show already).

3. Looking for Gains: This is the only show that creates pre-recorded content outside the studio and it really helps set it apart. Its interaction with audience members adds an element that justifies it being live. What really carries the show is Cash, the host, who has a relatable story, good charisma and can easily play the personality for two people. Where other show-hosts feel a bit stiff, Cash, alone, keeps the vibe of the show uplifting and energetic. For feedback, if the show was more hands-on beyond exercises, ranging from cooking or healthy lifestyle choices, it’d help expand the variety of each episode rather than nearly 30 minutes of work-out routines. Additionally, it would help the stage design feel more involved rather than just a backdrop.

Honorable Mention: The Download: Overall, The Download is a relatively safe ‘news cycle’ show that promises consistent content and discussion regardless of the day. Some episodes, the show feels stretched as news is definitely on the low side. The hosts are good presenters, keep the flow going and offer all sides of a discussion. There’s no real complaints about the content but I also feel it doesn’t innovate itself differently from other news shows in the gaming media sphere so it becomes: why watch VENN’s The Download over someone else?

All the rest of the shows have merits and bring something appealing to the table. Not all of them have found their moment or direction yet, but in time, they can really distinguish themselves from the rest. One caveat I have to mention is that I have watched “The Sushi Dragon Show” twice and though I don’t completely understand it, I do see the appeal of it for an audience.

Criticisms

Of course with any newly-launched product, VENN has some key points it needs to address to not only set it apart from its predecessors, but also to maximize the platform it’s trying to be on. From a product standpoint, I see VENN as everything but more polished. It’s a content-creator show-platform network being produced and broadcasted on… a content-creator show platform (Twitch, Facebook, YouTube). Some of their shows are similar to what we see on Twitch, YouTube, from media giants like IGN and more. The concern becomes, what will they do to distinguish themselves from what’s already established and secondly, what will they create to set themselves apart and round out their planned 24/7 content line-up.

More Live to feel LIVE

The most glaring part of VENN is that it is truly live and you know this by some of the rough edges each program sometimes faces: quiet moments that break the momentum, hosts a bit lost organizing a game as it isn’t already set up, guests unfamiliar with the game they’re playing and, of course, technical difficulties. Most of this can be fixed with editing and with time as for some, it’s only their second episode. The real underlying issue is the fact that each segment feels live for its fault and not because they take advantage of the live aspect. Questions or on-camera invited audience members are all things that can be done recorded live. Sometimes, polls, chat or even questions can be asked live on air but it is definitely not a focal part of the show nor is it really leaned except for a portion if not small mention between portions of a show. VENN feels live for the sake of being live.

One Bag of Content

VENN heavily relies on its hosts and guests to invite an audience to watch. The content itself is not new, it’s only the hosts and guests that give it a newness. That is an additional pressure for the on-camera leads who may not be used to a ‘tv-esque’ setting. To add, VENN has 4 talk-oriented shows leaning in a variety of directions but again, relying on the hosts to distinguish themselves from one another.

I assume with time, more varied content will be released but with that said, I already feel like gaming is secondary to the gaming people involved with each show. This may come down to preference but even if gaming is secondary, to watch two different shows play Fall Guys three times feels repetitive.

For so many genres of games, types of news and releases, I am hoping that VENN diversifies their content and games to capture everything in the future. Singleplayer games are great medium to generate discussion (as one talks and the other plays). Esports of course has a lot of buzz, talk and an overabundance of experts who can speak regularly or appear as guests. Console games also offer a different feeling when playing alongside one another than two people talking but staring at their computer screens. To see the same game three times in a row (twice on Guest House and once on VENN Arcade Live) signals to me, as an audience member, that games are a secondary thought to a network that centers its identity on gaming. Whether true or not, an expansion of ideas and content formats needs to be explored further.

Another Round of Polish

A small area I’d like to mention is that each show could use more graphics throughout the show. Either to better introduce guests, organize key information or simply to help provide additional content and trivia that guests or hosts did not get around to talking about.

On occasion, shows can feel a bit flat/stale when the same three camera angles are routinely gone through per segment. Especially true when COVID-19 prevents people from being more lively and personal with another due to distancing obligations.

Thirdly, I am unsure how much of each show is scripted, especially when it comes to topics or point of discussions on The Download or Grey Area, but from an outsider’s point-of-view, interactions and conversations could be stronger if arguments for/against, or answers to a question were articulated and formulated better before-hand (and subsequent responses can be ad-libbed for a more natural engagement).

Lastly, the website can be better utilized to highlight your hosts as well as your shows. As of right now, the homepage feels very large and redundant when it can be more jointly used as a community hub and promote its hosts more outside of the shows content.

GUEST HOUSE GUEST HOUSE GUEST HOUSE GUEST HOUSE GUEST HOUSE GUEST HOUSE GUEST HOUSE. New episode? Rerun? Who’s invited?

Conclusion

To conclude, I think VENN has a lot going for it. I also thought that GINX had a lot going for it as well as well as ESPN’s original plans and G4Tech when I was a teenager growing up. With VENN currently in beta, another studio launching in New York and very likely more content ideas being produced, I hope to see VENN thrived in areas that I, with ESGN and other previous networks like MLG, ESL and more, didn’t succeed in. I agree with Ariel Horn’s claim that there is plenty of room for VENN with today’s gaming-viewing audience. However, I also feel that creating high-quality shows are not enough to distinguish itself from a competition that multiplies with new stars and creators on a daily basis. VENN is a host of content that is hosted by a platform that hosts more content.

Since its launch, the channel network has earned 3+ million views. VENN is also on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and soon Vizo, Stirr and Xumo (according to their site).

For my colleagues in Europe, no one has heard of or even looked into VENN. The content production cycle for VENN will be key in that not everything needs to be a massive hit but as a network, you need to hit every idea and fill your slots with respectable audience sizes. Focusing purely on the NA region when gaming, esports and the culture itself is global feels like a missed opportunity but for businesses and advertisers, North America has always been the focus and I respect that business decision. I will personally keep watching VENN but look forward to when it brings more to the table.

I do not know what success looks like for VENN but I am aware of the challenges once VENN succeeds at a certain level. I’ll probably save that for my next piece as first, we need to see VENN grow.

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