The Tester Aims to Engage With Another Season of Girls and Games

Last spring, I defended The Tester, the first and currently only original series produced for the Sony PlayStation Network, for living up to its goal of giving an aspiring game developer the chance to work for his dream company. But having watched some of Season 2, which will be available tonight for free download to PlayStation3 owners, the show seems happy to excel at being unremarkable.

The show’s format is the same — 12 young men and women gamers, known by codenames like Samurai, War Princess and Gaymer, compete in video game-oriented challenges that will, eventually, prove their qualifications for an entry-level job as a PlayStation game tester. (For a cynical look at what being a game tester means, please enjoy Penny Arcade’s initial reaction to The Tester.)

For Season 2 (the first episode of which — up until the final elimination — was made available for press), previous judge Hal Sparks wasn’t available, and his spot on the judging panel had been taken by the first winner of America’s Next Top Model, Adrienne Curry. Curry’s presence is a major advantage for the show — while she seems a little well-medicated, she isn’t at all shy in her commentary, such as her observation, “Why is it always the cute ones who are dumb?”

Curry is so entertaining that she makes me want to keep watching, and she does bring some gamer cred to the table. But her presence, as well as that of this crop of female contestants who seem to know their way around a controller, doesn’t guarantee a feminist outlook on the part of the show.

For example, in the first episode, there’s a moment where the contestant Tripplethreat is in awe of being in the presence of God of War III director Stig Asmussen, because she admires his work as a game designer. Her reaction to seeing him, in both words and actions, is nothing but her acknowledging his talent and achievements — but the music and editing spin it as the realization of a romantic fantasy. C’mon, guys, she was talking about how much he respects him as a game creator, not how much she wants to bear his children. Not everything a girl feels has to do with being a girl.

The first episode also spends a lot of time focusing on the contestants’ reactions as they discover that their loft is filled with tons of PlayStation and Sony goodies — and while hopefully future episodes will go a little lighter on the product placement, the first few minutes of Episode 1 are tough to take (even if you’ve sat through a Dove Nutri-skin Quickfire Challenge on Top Chef).

Don’t get me wrong — the show’s production standards are strong and the collection of personalities gathered do have the potential to be entertaining. According to PlayStation Network senior director Susan Panico, with whom I spoke via phone, this season they’re incorporating feedback from viewers and not only lengthening the episodes to approximately half an hour, but emphasizing the interpersonal drama occurring inside the loft.

The Tester is currently the only original content being produced by PlayStation, though Panico says that may change in the future. “I’m not saying The Tester is The Sopranos or The Wire,” she said. “But it’s a step towards us creating shows that could be Emmy winners in time.”

But upcoming genres Panico says PlayStation might pursue would be comedy or Man Show-esque discussion series, given the network’s target audience of young gamer men. If the PlayStation Network does want to win an Emmy with its original content in the next five years, it might not want to let the lowest common denominator drive its programming decisions.

The Tester is currently on par with other competitive reality series found on network or cable television. The problem is that the bar they’re trying to clear isn’t set terribly high.

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ESPN Strips Out Ads on TV Everywhere Streams

ESPN recently rolled out its TV Everywhere service to Time Warner Cable subscribers, making live and on-demand video from its broadcasts available online for the first time. But consumers may be pleasantly surprised to find that there’s something missing from the online version of the video service — ads.

BTIG Research analyst Richard Greenfield noted the lack of ads in a research note this morning, questioning why the ESPN broadband service, which provides an authenticated version of the cable network’s live broadcast, stripped out all advertising whenever the network would jump to a commercial break. Instead, viewers only got to watch an animated ESPN logo for the minutes in-between commercial breaks.

The ESPN TV Everywhere service is notable because, while other cable networks like HBO and Showtime had made their content available online when subscribers entered in a password or some sort of login to verify their identities — and the channels that they’ve subscribed to — most of what they’ve served up so far has been on-demand content. ESPN has been the first cable network to start streaming its live broadcast online 24 hours a day. Still, it’s surprising that the ESPN TV Everywhere offering doesn’t have ads, especially considering that its ESPN3 broadband service, which isn’t authenticated but is only available to cable subs whose providers have struck deals with the programmers, has in-stream ads.

So why don’t ESPNs authenticated streams include ads? An ESPN spokesperson responded to our email request, saying that the lack of ads is due to rights differences between online and TV broadcasts. But don’t get too excited, as ad-free streams could come to an end at some point in the future. She writes:

“Due to rights differences online and on TV, our authenticated channels currently feature an animated logo during traditional commercial time. In the future we expect to add commercials to the online versions of the networks, using the same system ESPN pioneered for live, dynamic commercial insertion on ESPN3.com.”

While rights are one issue, another may be the measurement of online streams, and the ability to serve the same ads online as on the live broadcast. As Greenfield points out in his research note, there currently isn’t a third-party tracking service that allows programmers to match online viewing with their linear viewing on cable. While the temptation may be to run the same ads online as those that appear on cable, the online medium can provide higher-value interactive ads.

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Logitech Revue: Not Cutting It For Cord Cutters

How good is Logitech’s Revue Google TV set-top box for cord cutters? That’s the question we’re asking on this week’s episode of Cord Cutters, our new show dedicated to helping you with taking the jump into a future without monthly pay TV bills.

Check out the episode below — and if you want to learn more about Google TV, then come to our NewTeeVee Live conference on November 10th in San Francisco, featuring Google TV Product Lead Rishi Chandra.

We’re also talking to Veebeam’s VP of marketing Patrick Cosson about ways that Vebeam can help to you beam video content like The Office and other TV shows hosted on Hulu.com and other sites straight from your laptop to your TV set.

We also have a video review of Legend of Neil, brought to you by our own Liz Shannon Miller, who is taking the opportunity to out herself as a video game fan.

Finally, thanks for all the feedback from the cord cutters in our audience! Keep sending in your stories, questions and suggestions — and send us some photos or video if you a really great setup in your living room. Our email is cordcutters@gigaom.com.

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Google TV Exec: We Owe It All to the iPhone

One of the most important inspirations for Google TV was Apple’s iPhone, Google TV Product Lead Rishi Chandra revealed during a keynote at the Streaming Media West Conference today. Chandra spent much of his keynote talking about why the time is right for a new approach to bringing web content to the TV, and he compared the space with the way mobile phones accessed the web five years ago. Back then, most operators tried to package the web for mobile devices –- and all of them failed. “Apple threw out that assumption,” said Chandra.

Are you interested in hearing more about Google TV? Then check out our NewTeeVee Live conference, coming up on November 10 in San Francisco, where we will quiz Rishi Chandra about the future of this platform.

Apple refused to optimize the web, and instead just served web sites as is on its devices. Content creators soon noticed a spike of mobile traffic coming from the iPhone, and soon after started to optimize their site for the iPhone. Essentially, Apple solved the chicken-and-egg problem and in turn kickstarted the mobile web. Google now hopes to do the same by bringing a full browser onto the TV.

“You need to bring all of the content onto the TV today, even if it’s not optimized,” said Chandra. In fact, the company is taking another lesson from Apple’s playbook by coming out with a browser first, and adding access to the Android Marketplace early next year. “It took a full year for the app store to come to the iPhone,” reminded Chandra his audience.

Of course, Google TV is based on Android, with which Google is competing with the iPhone, and Chandra acknowledged this part of the product’s heritage by emphasizing that another important lesson from the mobile space has been to open source Google TV. “If you open source the platform, then all of a sudden you’re bringing the entire industry, the entire ecosystem on your side,” he said.

Chandra also briefly talked about Google TV’s challenges with broadcasters who have been blocking access to online content. He joked that most of this broadcast content is actually available on Google TV through your cable or satellite service, but said that Google is trying to make as much content available on its platform as possible.

Check out an interview I did with Chandra a few days ago below:

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Buy Toy Story 3 at Walmart? Stream It on VUDU

For those wondering what might come of Walmart acquiring over-the-top video company VUDU, here’s the first big move.

Tomorrow, when Pixar’s Toy Story 3 becomes available on DVD and Blu-ray, any consumer who buys a disc at a Walmart store will receive a code to watch the film to any VUDU-enabled device, including a number of connected Blu-ray players, HDTVs and home theater systems as well as, most recently, the upcoming Boxee box. According to a post on the VUDU blog, “The future of media has officially arrived, and it is awesome!”

This isn’t the first time a similar deal has been offered to consumers; Amazon, for example, launched a promotional offer last December that allowed buyers to immediately download any title they’d just purchased on DVD or Blu-ray.

However, it is the first time that Walmart is making direct use of its VUDU deal — which, Peter Kafka reported last February, cost Wal-mart over $100 million in cash — and may lead to similar offers beyond Toy Story 3.

Will this be a step forward for digital distribution, though? Given the general attitude among many industry leaders that physical media is on its way out, this move seems like a smart way to introduce consumers to new content platforms.

But by requiring the purchase of a DVD or Blu-ray, Walmart may be holding on too hard to a dying medium. While the VUDU acquisition does show that Walmart is looking to the future, it remains to be seen what direction this move will take.

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Loading Ready Run’s Daily Drop Offers Elegant Slow-Mo Destruction

Any Mythbusters fans in the house? Especially Mythbusters fans who tune in not for the science, but for the slow-motion footage of destruction? This one’s for you.

Daily Drop, the brainchild of Canadian sketch comedy maestros Loading Ready Run and run exclusively on Escapist Magazine.com, lives up to its name in a very simple way. In each daily episode, a speechless scientist portrayed by LRR members Paul Saunders or Graham Stark (the show’s creator) climbs up a ladder and drops something from an approximate height of ten feet. The ensuing collision with the ground is captured by a waiting high-speed camera, and presented for the viewer in elegant slow-motion.

While slow motion is far from a new concept, few have attempted to make serial content out of the technique. The closest thing to Daily Drop in recent memory is the now-defunct I Can Has Cheezburger series SuperSweetSlowMo.

But while that project lacked focus, the concept of slow-mo destruction has an enduring quality to it, and so far the Loading Ready Run team has shown a great deal of imagination in choosing what to drop, from pizza:

To binder coils:

To a Koosh ball:

The best part is when an experiment doesn’t produce very exciting results — for example, when a bag of coffee just plops on the ground. LRR’s solution? A crowbar.

The score is perhaps slightly too heavily influenced by old Nintendo tunes, but doesn’t end up detracting from these bite-sized moments of pure visual spectacle. It’s great short-attention-span content, the kind of single-serving mayhem that’s built empires for blender and microwave users. Except that in this case, Daily Drop only requires gravity, which is free, and everywhere.

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PHOTOS: Gov. Schwarzenegger Loves His Oversized Skull Rings

In what might be the most fascinating and yet utterly unsurprising news of the week, it appears that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has an intense fondness for oversize rings. We first noticed Schwarzenegger's unique take on accessorizing in a New York Times photo of the Governor meeting with Russian president Dmitri Medvedev in Moscow. While neither men are anything close to a shrinking violet, it was Schwarzenegger's giant skull ring that stole the show.

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