Monday, May 9, 2016

Reflections on Sega Channel

In the mid 1990s, the Fox affiliate station in my area held what was called the "Fox Kids Club Expo," which was an event that had several kids activities and things to promote TV shows on at the time. The year was likely 1995. I've searched thoroughly online about this event but can't find any evidence that it happened, so I'm trying to piece things together with my murky memories.

The drive to this show was about an hour away from where we lived, which was a big deal. But my brother and I were able to convince my dad to make the trip to take us. It was awe inspiring. The biggest selling factor for me was a chance to meet the pink and red Power Rangers. Ultimately though, the thing that stuck with me the most all this time was seeing the Sega Channel in person for the first (and only time).

Read on for more.

According to the promotional video above for the service, you could access "up to 50 Sega Genesis games," including the ability to try games before they have even been released. Today, if you were to do a service such as this, you would likely stream it over the internet, but due to high speed internet not being as prevalent as it would be in later years, the service utilized the cable service that was already in homes. Due to the nature of the service, documentation of how actually using it is hard to come by, as it isn't something that can just be emulated. There are ROM dumps of the menu system to demo how it would work, but that is the extent of it.

The idea of this service was magical. I was a "Genesis Kid" in general, so the idea that I could have access to so many Genesis games so easily sounded like heaven. What I didn't note or even think about at the time was the fact that this came relatively late in the Genesis' lifespan and the cost of the service wasn't something that a grade school kid like myself at the time could handle.

Why is this kid holding the Sega Genesis itself WHILE playing a game?

Back to the Fox Kids Club Expo. There were rows of kids using the Sega Channel hooked up to various TVs demoing the service. My brother and I were so excited to see this, you could even sign up for the service right there! Of course someone from the cable company would have to come set things up, but the chance was right there in front of you to get the ball rolling.

My dad went over and spoke with one of representatives at the booth about the service once he saw how excited we were about it. When he came away from talking to him, all I remember was that he told me that we couldn't get it. I don't know if this was related to the cost or if our cable provider who covered our town was different than the one covering the town this event was in and didn't support the service. At the time I attributed it to the cost, so I didn't even attempt to play it, we just moved on to the next thing at the show and continued to have a good time.

Judging from my research, Sega Channel cost approximately $15 per month depending on your location and you had to pay a one time fee of $25 to set it up. In hindsight, considering how late in the Genesis' lifespan the service came and how a year or so later I would have moved on to being excited about the PlayStation, it is probably a good thing that we ended up not getting it because long term it wasn't going to be around forever and would be dated to a kid at the time.

Even though it is likely what led to their inability to move forward as hardware manufacturers, I have always loved Sega's willingness to try just about anything in the 1990s. They had way to many projects going on at once in hindsight, but it was neat to see them try. At one point they were juggling the Genesis, Game Gear, Sega CD, Sega 32X, Sega Pico, Sega Channel and Sega Saturn all at pretty much the same time. Things probably would've gone smoother for them had they just focused on making the launch of the Saturn a success, but it's easy for us to say that now.

There continue to be on demand game services today, such as PlayStation Now, so the concept of the Sega Channel wasn't a bad one or one that couldn't work. It was likely just ahead of its time while simultaneously struggling with poor timing, if that makes any sense.

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