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PSN director: The Tester is a 'foundation for something much bigger'


"I hope five years from now we'll be winning Emmys for quality shows," PlayStation Network director Susan Panico said to Joystiq, imagining programming on the level of HBO's Entourage or The Sopranos. She was speaking sincerely about the platform's vision for original content.

PSN might be synonymous with gaming, but going forward, Panico hopes it will also be recognized for its original video programming, which currently includes Pulse, Qore and The Tester, a reality competition show about winning a job as a PlayStation game tester, recently renewed for a second season.

"I look at what HBO has done over several years, where they started just offering movies and went into the original production business," Panico said, revealing high aspirations for PSN's original content. "By no means am I putting The Tester with The Sopranos and what have you," she clarified, "but if you want to make yourself the go-to destination for content, you need to provide content that people can't get anywhere else."

"We look at original programming and The Tester as the foundation for building out something much bigger."

While Panico has nothing to announce in terms of upcoming or planned original programming, she does tell us that her division has had ongoing discussions with other arms of the Sony media empire. "We also have other creative discussions with our other sister Sony companies, whether it be Sony Pictures or Sony Pictures Television, on exciting ideas that may be more appropriate for our big-screen audience versus the traditional broadcast audience." Of course, Panico knows that internal productions can't drive PSN media consumption alone, and it appears the company has been actively courting third parties, as well.

"In the long-term, you'll definitely see us broaden out to the more fictional-type programming." - Susan Panico, PSN

"While we can take advantage of the huge production pipeline that Sony has, we're talking to a lot of other production companies that may have content they want to get in front of a captivated, very engaged, male demographic that's highly concentrated in the 18–35 demographic," Panico confirmed of PSN's target audience. "I think people are seeing a lot of opportunity there compared to just throwing stuff out on the web and getting it lost."

The first season of The Tester generated 2.5 million downloads over 8 episodes, which Panico suggests is "on par" with comparable shows on cable television. "If you look at Nielsen ratings for some cable shows on say, G4, where they might garner a 3-percent Nielsen rating -- we're right there on par with some of those shows." Thanks to a new social media campaign, and increased awareness of the format, Panico believes that the second season of the show will do even better, with the group aiming for 3.5 million downloads -- a 40 percent increase.

Panico promises the second season will be more compelling -- you know, more "drama" -- not just because of increased production values, but because of its longer running time. Apparently, surveyed viewers of The Tester wanted more of the show -- leading to episodes that could be up to an hour in length. Apparently, 90 percent of respondents also said they wanted to see more programming like The Tester on PSN.

Advertisers seem ready to embrace Sony's original content format, too, which delivers a different kind of engagement than the traditional TV model. The Air Force, for example, has not only purchased pre-roll and mid-episode advertisements, but will sponsor a themed challenge during the new Tester season. Additionally, EA has secured mid-roll commercial spots for its Medal of Honor reboot, and bearded producer Greg Goodrich (pictured above) will be featured as one of the guest judges on the show.

With advertisers on board and the format increasingly refined, we wondered if The Tester "Season Three" was a sure thing already. "We're still in the experimental phase, but we know for sure we're going to continue with this format," Panico said, uncertain about The Tester's particular fate and perhaps more focused on its legacy: "How can this format evolve into other ideas?"

"I think in the long-term, you'll definitely see us broaden out to the more fictional-type programming," was her answer, "but again, it'll be content that's very relevant to our audience."

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