A few years back, today would have been a very bad day for workplace productivity, as hundreds of thousands of fans of EA Sports’ Madden Football franchise either took the day off or missed a big chunk of it to wait in line to buy the latest iteration of the iconic videogame series. These days, not so much. With online pre-orders, electronic downloads and disappearing game retailers, finding a line of camped-out gamers waiting for midnight and this year’s Madden is a lot harder. But the game itself continues to pile on the cash, both directly and with the add-on content that publishers now rely on to boost margins and protect their development investments.

Analysts are projecting this year’s Madden Football 15, which costs around $60 for a copy, will generate around $300 million, with downloadable add-on content generating another $50 million from really hardcore players. Original endorser John Madden, the Hall of Fame NFL coach and long-time broadcaster, is no longer much of a presence, but the game continues to do well in its 26th year. For the last decade, it’s been the NFL’s exclusive videogame franchisee, and it continues to create ancillary businesses beyond the game itself.

Madden NFL 15 Crabtree Seattle imageFor instance, Microsoft, still searching for ways to goose Xbox One sales, is bundling Madden 15 with the console for $399.96, which is putatively the price for the machine itself (minus the Kinect sensor systems that could add some gameplay possibilities and $100 to the price).

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I accidentally went to a GameStop the night prior. Decent little crowd of gamers waiting for it....

And I was just contacted about  Madden “Uber Player” Joshua Garland, who’s launched Maddentips.TV, a subscription-based monthly channel on PivotShare, a premium video platform that splits revenue 70/30 with its talent.

Garland reportedly plays Madden six hours a day, and already has regular Madden game-play videos on YouTube and Twitch. The MaddenTips.TV channel on YouTube will come with a commercial instead. With the PivotShare subscription channel coming right after that Amazon $970 million acquisition of Twitch, Garland is clearly hoping to create a new room for his boom.

Oh, and here’s the highly entertaining and lavishly produced Madden 15 trailer featuring Kevin Hart and Dave Franco that EA Sports released Aug.15. It’s already attracted 6.8 million views on YouTube, which should give you an idea of the franchise’s continuing appeal. It’s a hoot:

ESPN’s SEC Network Adds Verizon FIOS To Its Carriers

SEC Network ESPN Large logoWith the days dwindling to just a couple before the start of college football season, ESPN’s shiny new money maker, the SEC Network, has added yet another big video provider to its already long list, inking a deal with Verizon’s FIOS service.

The carriage agreement, at least at launch, is somewhat unusual. It makes the college-sports channel available to all FIOS customers with ESPN in Texas and Florida (the two huge states that bookend the conference’s territory). But for users in 18 other FIOS states, the network will only be available to subscribers with FIOS Extreme or Ultimate packages.

The deal makes the SEC Network available in 62 million households nationwide, ESPN said. That’s an extremely good rollout for a new cable channel in an era of consumer pushback over prices, particularly for sports channels in basic tiers (see also, Time Warner Cable’s travails with the Dodgers and SportsNet LA). It also puts the channel on nine of the ten biggest U.S. pay-TV companies.

As with other recent SEC Network deals, it includes live viewing right plus access to additional material on tablets, smartphones and computers through various apps from both FIOS and Disney.

Google Buys Zync As VFX Consolidation Continues

Google Acquisition Zync LogoSpeaking of that Amazon purchase of Twitch, which left supposed done-deal buyer Google at the altar, Google has returned the favor in part. Today it announced through a blog post that it’s picked up Zync, a Boston-based startup that specializes in rendering visual-effects shots online. The cloud-based approach, according to the company’s pitch (see promo trailer below) allows a studio or commercial producer to buy only as much computer capacity as it actually needs to finish a project.

The deal for undisclosed terms is Google’s 26th acquisition of the year as it continues to layer on technology and engineering talent to beef up different corners of its sprawling business. In this case, Zync and its Zync Render tool will slot in nicely with Google’s existing Cloud Platform offerings to provide additional services online for for studio post-production needs, and according to a statement posted by Zync, will allow it to offer new packages of services and even per-minute billing for cloud services.

More broadly, it’s hard not to read the acquisition as yet another step in the broader consolidation of the expensive business of creating visual effects, animation and 3D for films, commercials and increasingly television. I wrote last week about the massive merger involving Prime Focus World and the Oscar-winning VFX shop Double Negative. CEO Namit Malhotra even invested in last weekend’s Sin City sequel, for which his company did every frame of the eye-popping green-screen and 3D work.

Meanwhile, other small visual-effects shops are closing left and right, straining under the challenges of keeping up with technology, global production demands, distant tax incentives and too much competition. Having a service like Zync available from anywhere in the world with an Internet connection, while backed by the resources and technological backbone of Google, won’t make that any easier for small shops. Here’s the YouTube video Zync posted a couple of years ago about its service: