Summary:

USA Networks is unveiling a new version of its Character Arcade casual games portal, an upgrade that’s packed with new ad units, games from…

USA Character Arcade

USA Networks is unveiling a new version of its Character Arcade casual games portal, an upgrade that’s packed with new ad units, games from NeoEdge and Bigpoint — including a microtransaction-based massively multiplayer online (MMO) title — as well as social media tools from Bunchball.

In the works for the past year, the revamp is just the latest of a number of casual game-related initiatives and deals to come from TV networks, including Lifetime Digital’s deal with with virtual tournament provider King.com, and new mobile game apps from *MTV* Networks and *ESPN*. The investment in casual games, be it by creating new apps or devoting resources to redesign a site, pays off for these media companies in increased time spent on their properties — meaning more page views and increased engagement with their brands.

Jesse Redniss, USA Network’s VP of digital, said traffic to the Character Arcade had been “gradually increasing” over the past 18 months, but Compete stats show that monthly uniques are down from a high of nearly 156,000 in December 2008, to just around 93,000 in August. The new Facebook connectivity through Bunchball is aimed at getting players to share scores, chat and compete, as well as attract new users; the deal with NeoEdge also includes syndication of USA Network’s games.

The site’s typical visitors are women in their thirties; USA Network is bringing in the games from NeoEdge, Bigpoint, and developing some new titles in-house to help attract more male eyeballs. In terms of ads, the arcade offers banners, video ads and advergames; Redniss said average CPMs on pre- and mid-game video ads had trended upward over the past six months, in particular. Advertisers can buy ads across the arcade, USA.com and on-air; brands like BigLots and Windex have already run cross-platform campaigns, including on-air spots aimed at driving viewers back to the games site.

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