Previously, we talked with Susan Panico, senior director for PlayStation Network, about original content like The Tester on PSN. We got the chance to circle around and talk with her again about PSN content in general.
[a]list: What’s it been like to shift PSN from a game centric service to something that incorporates a lot of other media?
Susan Panico: Well, while some people talk about gaming being separate from other entertainment, I think it should be judged on equal ground. But to answer more directly, it’s all about delivering a consumer choice and there’s a lot of entertainment options out there, whether that’s movies or music and it made a lot of sense to provide different video viewing options to the consumer; it really solidifies the PS3 as the anchor in the living room.
At our heart is gaming; PlayStation helped legitimize gaming and became a pop culture icon and one of the important things for gamers to know, and I think we deliver on, is with huge, AAA quality titles. But we also know that they also like comics, music, movies and love deep intricate games and they also want pick-me-up stuff on PSN and Home. I look at it as day in a life of Joe Consumer; he might play a game for a few hours and take a break and stream a movie from Netflix or rent a TV show or do a lighter game and maybe go in Home where he can meet another gamer who will tell him how to get by that part he was stuck in!
[a]list: It’s nice to have choices. We’re still shocked when we see musical groups that refuse to offer their songs online because they don’t want to sell individual songs.
Susan Panico: I’m sure an album has a story, but kids want to get what’s interesting to them, and it’s important to give people those options. PSN is comprehensive and it gives the a la carte options.
[a]list: So we’ve heard that PSN has done well by Call of Duty: Black Ops this holiday season so far?
Susan Panico: It’s been a huge success for us. One of the things is we see 77 percent of our users play some content on PlayStation Store every month and Black Ops is a huge title for driving that engagement level. All the DLC and map packs do really well for that. We’ve also created the Pixel Junk franchise and we’ve had some great feedback with that. Also, it fluctuates a little bit, but nearly half the games on PSN are content that you can’t get anywhere else and we have really strong developer relations with companies like ThatGameCompany to bring that content to PSN. And on Home, there are 100 games with more still coming, so that’s an evergreen success.
[a]list: What sort of special considerations are there on PSN for deciding what movies, games and other programming to promote?
Susan Panico: Multiple considerations. First is knowing our audience and trying to elevate content that we know is meaningful to them and trying to program it appropriately. I think the second is creating content that is exclusive or meets the quality of PSN, and sometimes there’s marketing commitment on a title to title basis that we provide support to.
[a]list: With connections from the PS3, PSP and other devices in the future do you see PSN becoming the center of the PlayStation world?
Susan Panico: It already has in a sense. Kaz Hirai, who was the SCEA CEO and now is the SCEI CEO and became the boss for the Product Services Group and then created Sony Network Entertainment Inc. to leverage the PSN network and use it for other Sony devices and they launched a service Qriocity and they’re rolling out a music service in Europe. So definitely a lot of the learning and infrastructure have been leveraged for the rest of Sony group.
I think [Sony CEO] Sir Howard Stringer talked about the digital strategy and how that’s an important angle for Sony’s success. We’ve always been born of the marriage of technology and entertainment. I think that PlayStation has a lot of cultural currency and brings in younger audiences through its content. So digital content is big for Sony overall and PSN has been the most prominent example.
[a]list: What companies have been big into advertising with PSN?
Susan Panico: One of the things that advertisers recognized is the time spent and frequency of use of PSN, and our primary user is male 18 to 35, so it’s a lucrative audience that they’re trying to get in front of. One of the things that differentiates us is we can present a package that includes the browser, original programming, PSN, PS3 start up, etc. and it’s a very comprehensive package.
As far as individual brands, we’ve worked with AXE, Progressive Insurance, Ford and Toyota, and they’ve been good partners and they’ve continued to come back to us. For marketers that aren’t doing straight CPM buys, it’s contextual so it gives companies an option for things to do. They can make a scavenger hunt around their brand that isn’t about a simple video on a TV screen.
[a]list: Do you think the lack of any mandatory pay options has helped PSN with its broad appeal?
Susan Panico: Hopefully people are drawn to the open access to the service, because if you’re going to spend $60 on a game, we’re not going to charge them just for playing the game; it doesn’t make sense from the consumer experience. Also, when you’re looking at strong franchises on multiple platforms, it shows we are a destination for hardcore multiplayer gamers, but we’ve also introduced games like Singstar and LittleBigPlanet where more casual players can socially play online.
[a]list: What’s the response been like to the paid subscription options on PSN, like Qore and PS Plus?
Susan Panico: PS Plus, we haven’t released figures yet, but in the most recent month, it’s been very successful. We’ve listened to the feedback and have tried to offer the content that they want. We are running a business, so we had to look at a way to create reoccurring revenue, and we looked to see what would people be willing to pay for and PS Plus was what we came up with, providing a lot of great content, exclusive discounts and exclusive access to betas, and it enhances the overall experience for fans, but it also has a chance to reach a whole new audience for people who want whole new content.
[a]list: Games like DC Universe Online, Killzone 3 and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood have been offered as multiplayer betas… would you say that’s a big draw for PS Plus?
Susan Panico: Definitely, one of the top three things that people like about PS Plus is those games.
[a]list: Anything else you’d like to add?
Susan Panico: I’ve been here for 16 years and I think this is one of the most exciting times in our history. We’ve broadened the DVD market with PS2 and now with PS3, you have Blu-ray, network service and coupled with all these fabulous games we have, such as Gran Turismo 5, we’re entertainment flypaper! There’s so much entertainment stickiness on the horizon, we’re really excited.
[a]list: Speaking of Gran Turismo 5, we thought the ad with Kevin Butler was a great mix of humor, information and impressive visuals…
Susan Panico: I was on the marketing side for Gran Turismo 1 -4, so seeing that made me very pleased.
[a]list: And we have to say we can’t wait to hear what Naughty Dog has cooking up next. I know there’s an announcement coming on December 12.
Susan Panico: Thanks! I can’t wait to hear either! *laughs* Honestly, I don’t know! It’s on a need to know basis right now.