The Video Game Entertainment and News Network, or VENN, is officially here. Announced last year and billed as a "live 24/7 network for gaming, streaming, esports and entertainment audiences," VENN went live yesterday with its first couple of shows and has been airing these, in rotation, without any major hiccups on the likes on Twitch and YouTube. Ahead of the launch, ComicBook.com had the opportunity to speak with Viranda Tantula, VP and executive creative director at VENN, about the whole operation, including the types of shows he stills wants to make and what makes this new effort stand out from the rest of the attempts over the years.
"VENN is the TV network for the gaming and streaming generation," Tantula says when asked to explain what, exactly, VENN is. "The most important thing is that VENN stands for Video Game Entertainment News Network. The thing about that though is that that is an acronym that is accurate, but not an acronym that we might say too often. More importantly, what VENN is, is the VENN diagram between gaming and culture, right? I think that's the biggest sort of unique differentiator is kind of presenting the culture of gaming, really showing the overlap of gaming as now what is finally in recent years just become another part of culture in the same way that music, fashion, food, art, and film are versus being sort of this stigmatized sort of subculture. So I like to say that we're the entertainment network for the gaming and streaming generation. We aren't necessarily just a gaming network."
And the lineup of shows certainly seems to echo this sort of mission. While there is gaming-centric content like VENN Arcade Live, there are several different shows that instead approach the intersection of gaming and other activities. Looking for Gains, for example, is an interactive fitness show and not explicitly and directly about just gaming. "VENN is a place where talent and creators can let their imaginations run wild. It’s our job to help them realize their vision," Tantula said previously when the first content slate was announced. "VENN was built to be a talent first network - a welcoming home for gamers, streamers, and creators of all genres, backgrounds, and passions. We’re inspired by a love of content, craft, and culture - a love we share with the talent who are joining us. We hope our audience feels that energy."
Obviously, VENN is not the first attempt to bring gaming content to the masses with production value, nor even the first time that gaming-adjacent content was made to do the same. There have even been teasers that some kind of G4 revival is on the horizon. So, why now? What sets VENN apart from what came before it? According to Tantula, VENN has several things in its favor, but first and foremost might just be the fact that the world is finally ready for something like this.
"I think it's a timing thing. Candidly, that's one element of it. I think there've been gaming networks that have been attempted in the past that might've been ahead of their day," he says. "I think the team that we're attempting to build is like a scrappy version of the Avengers where you have this potentially amazing, perfect kind of mix of folks that come from a balance of folks that have built boots-on-the-ground community experiences for gamers, right? For gamers, for geek culture and pop culture enthusiasts, right? Even people that have made boots-on-the-ground experiences for music communities and things like that."
Balance that out with folks from traditional media and the production world that are equally passionate and, well, that's VENN, according to Tantula. "I think that's sort of our special sauce is the marriage of the two worlds," he adds. VENN presents an opportunity to foster its own sort of curation and presentation for talent and creators to bring forward a "diversity of programming" that Tantula hopes will be the big differentiator between what came before as well as the absolute deluge of content being uploaded online at any given moment. For now, time will tell, but there does seem to be a fairly steady number of viewers on Twitch, for example, at any given moment.
"For what it's worth, we're self-aware," Tantula says when asked about what constitutes success for VENN. For him, it's about resonating with audiences and the talent working the shows, but he's clear that he knows that's not exactly what I meant with the question. "I think anyone, anybody in the world that you were to ask the question, 'how do you make a perfect entertainment experience for gamers or for the gaming generation or the streaming generation?' Anyone that's going to give you a perfect answer to that is lying to you," he says. "[I think you need] a certain degree of self-awareness about knowing that the types of content, the content landscape itself shifts on the kind of a day-to-day basis. Pardon my language, you can't pull any BS on this audience. Authenticity is everything."
And maybe, just maybe, that means that VENN itself encounters some failures along the way, but Tantula is adamant that the company is "in this for the long haul" at the end of the day. "Some of our programming, knock on wood, I'm quite confident it's going to be pretty amazing on day one," he notes. "Other programming of ours might or might not be. No television network that's launched or no television show that's launched has been perfect on day one. The thing is we are committed to it and we're committed to evolving it. We have no ego about evolving things. If our show doesn't necessarily work on day one, we want to hear back from the audience and get feedback from them."
As for what sorts of shows and experiences Tantula already have their eyes on developing? Well, that's complicated, and he says that the launch slate of seven shows was whittled down from a development spreadsheet of something like 400 shows. But, for example, he'd love to make some kind of cooking show. "I think there's an amazing story we can do with inviting notable personalities from the space to come to your interviews and cook together," he says. Fashion and gaming is another possibility mentioned directly, though Tantula admits that anything of complexity is that much more complex in a COVID-19 world. But for now, VENN is confident in what it is putting forward to audiences already.0comments
And, for what it's worth, VENN knows that this is a strange time to launch, well, anything at all. "For us, we really felt this is a time in history when the technology that exists to allow us as humans to connect with one another and communicate with one another, makes a lot of things possible that wouldn't have been possible even two, three years ago," he says. In his eyes, VENN can help provide a sense of connection, of community, and of escapism in these trying times. " I think people need to be able to escape a bit and kind of find a bit of joy amongst all this madness and we wanted to be there to kind of help with that mission and to entertain them."
VENN is currently airing on the likes of Twitch and YouTube. New episodes for the various shows that are part of launch slate are expected to air on a regular basis. You can check out all of our previous coverage of VENN right here.