Big media is finally grasping that the sands beneath its feet are shifting; and Vivendi'sbold step for Activision may be the beginnings of dramatic change for all kinds of digital entertainment.
And it's about time. George Lucas (I know, major name-dropping here) told me not too long ago, that one of the key reasons for his studio's success is the seamless integration between his LucasArts video games division and LucasFilm, his studio operation.
But he's been doing it for years. Other studios simply have not been able to grasp the magnitude of that kind of arrangement. Vivendi, and other studios, have been watching their audiences turn their backs on the big screens in the theaters, in favor of their smaller screens at home. "World of Warcraft" players spend, on average, three hours a day, playing the title. "The Guitar Hero" franchise is turning one-on-one game play into a far more social experience. And Xbox Live! players are linking to the internet to play one another, as well as link up via social networking, by the millions.
Vivendi sees Activision as a way to extend so many of its entertainment brands, as well as seeding titles with Vivendi properties. Games as a source of entertainment AND distribution of new content. An entertaining advertising vehicle, if you will. New versions of Guitar Hero featuring Vivendi recording artists. New studio features simultaneously developed into Activision titles.
And that's why this deal is so important; and that's also why so many experts have been wondering why it's taken so long for Big Media to "get it." So the day's news begs the question, What's next? Does this automatically mean Electronic Arts is in play? Probably. Does EA make a play for Activision? Maybe. Does this spur Microsoft to unlock the real value of its Xbox franchise and spin it out as an independent unit? Robbie Bach, the president of the division, told me recently that there are no plans whatsoever to do something like that; but Xbox is finally turning profitable after losing billions and its seeing the best momentum in its history. Same goes for the overall video games industry.
I'm not sure staying under Microsoft's control is such an absolute any longer. Does Microsoft make a play for Electronic Arts? Or even Activision? And what about Sony , so desperate for some kind of bold initiative to get its gaming unit back on track? A Sony/Electronic Arts deal, along the lines of the Vivendi/Activision arrangement would be fascinating to watch.
The world is moving online, and the entertainment industry is no different. But like music, and then movies, Hollywood has been slow to see these trends develop, and by the time it does, it's usually too late. Vivendi's move to create Activision Blizzard comes at a critical time for the studios, and the gaming industry. This will certainly be the first, not the last, major announcement for studios and gaming companies as both industries finally begin to morph into each other.
George Lucas has to be sitting in his office this morning; celebrating yet another reason for the industry to think of him as "visionary," and it cost him so much less than the check Vivendi has to write.
Questions? Comments? TechCheck@cnbc.com