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Wii adds advertising to family time

Nintendo is taking over Japanese living rooms and proving the Wii has legs beyond being a game console.

The Nintendo Wii has already changed the face of video games and recently started breaking new ground in advertising and social gaming. With the recent launch of the Wii-no-ma service in Japan, Nintendo has figured out how to make gaming a family event.

According to Cyber Media Japan, Nintendo researchers found that 87 percent of Wii users use it on the biggest screen in the house, which is still the one in the living room.

Wii-no-ma Nintendo

Accordingly, Nintendo believes that new forms of advertising--especially those encouraging togetherness in viewing ads and watching videos on the Wii--are bound to make money.

I didn't think much of the initial announcements, but after talking to a friend in Japan, I realized that Nintendo may have figured out how to become the entertainment consolidator that so many other companies have been gunning for.

Cable companies, Tivo, Yahoo, and AOL all come to mind as groups that have tried to consolidate content and games, but the diversity of user experiences along with the way people choose to consume content has proven to be difficult to manage.

Nintendo is looking to broaden the variety of things you can do with a single gaming device by establishing the Wii as the machine that provides more options than those available from a handheld device like the DSi, or a more gamer-oriented product such as the Xbox. (I wrote about the Wii catering channel here.)

While existing services for PCs or cell phones are mainly focused on personal use, Wii-no-Ma will specialize on programs and services for groups of people that watch together and communicate with each other. Up to eight family members can register on a single Wii-no-Ma, build avatars and interact with each other.

Program recommendations can be sent to family members and friends and you can interact with the Concierge Mii, an avatar of a Japanese celebrity (actor Saburo Tokito is pre-installed) that appears on screen and introduces shows that match the users' profile. Personalized content will have DVR-like functionality, with five key TV stations in Tokyo providing some of their programs. Users are asked to evaluate programs in order to optimize content for specific gender and age groups, much like Tivo in the U.S.

If the above sounds fairly obvious, the advertising strategy (which I've been told is "very Japanese") is uncommon in the U.S.

After watching video programs, users head to The Companies' Room, which is basically a virtual trade show, not a beloved experience in the U.S. Companies can communicate with the customers in many ways including videos, questionnaires, exclusive coupons, or free samples. If a user chooses to engage with an ad, the advertiser can further communicate and develop a relationship with the users. Then the users can pass on information about the advertiser to their friends and family.

Nintendo is anticipating a change in advertising from what users avoid watching to what users are eager to watch. Again, not uncommon when we think of Tivo et al. The interesting thing here is that Nintendo has silently made the Wii console the center of the living room and so far their customer base in Japan is absolutely thrilled.

It's not clear that this model will translate to other countries or that advertisers will get what they want, but it is clear that these kind of immersive experiences will become more common and start to cross boundaries from the living room to mobile devices and beyond.

Follow me on Twitter @daveofdoom