LOS ANGELES — When Chris and Rebecca Rider sit down to watch a romantic movie together, they don't pop in a DVD or turn on the DVR. They fire up their video game console.
Once kept in rec rooms for a family's gamers, Microsoft's Xbox 360, Sony's PlayStation 3 and Nintendo's Wii are increasingly being used by people who have no interest in helping Mario save the princess or the Call of Duty soldiers win the war.
"Since I'm a gamer, I'm always going to need a console," Chris Rider said. "So why bother with anything else if I don't have to?"
As nearly 50,000 industry professionals gather in Los Angeles this week for the annual E3 video game conference, players like Rider are front and center in their minds. Instead of focusing just on hot new titles like Halo 4 and God of War: Ascension, companies are also showing off applications that turn their game consoles into media machines.
At Microsoft's news conference Monday kicking off the E3 convention, the tech giant announced applications from 35 new entertainment partners coming to the Xbox 360 in the next year. Among them: Univision, Nickelodeon, the NBA and the National Hockey League. ESPN is significantly expanding its offerings on the Xbox to include live feeds of all its channels, and Microsoft is launching a music service to compete with the likes of iTunes and Spotify.
The turning point for consoles as full entertainment machines came in late 2008 when Netflix launched on the Xbox 360. It was the first simple way for millions of people to stream Netflix video on a television.
"When Netflix got on the Xbox, that's what ignited their streaming service," said Jamie McCabe, 20th Century Fox's executive vice president of video-on-demand and digital downloads.
Netflix soon became available on the PS3 and Wii. Today, game consoles are the most popular conduit, aside from PCs, used by the company's 23.4 million streaming video customers in the United States.
Dozens of apps have since followed. It's now unusual to find an online video or music service that isn't available on the PS3 or Xbox 360. (The Wii has only Netflix.)
"When digital retailers launch on these consoles, we can see sales jumps of more than 100 percent," said David Bishop, president of Sony Pictures home entertainment.
It may be a while before game companies pose a serious threat to cable giant Comcast or satellite service Dish Network. Services such as HBO Go and ESPN, in fact, require cable subscriptions to work on the consoles.
To compete, the game companies are trying to do with digital video what they have always done best: make it interactive. An upcoming Sesame Street app for the Xbox will use the console's Kinect camera to scan a child's clothing and have a character on screen wear the same color. And playoff games, they say, are no longer meant to be enjoyed while simply lounging on a recliner.
"With our sports applications you can look up live stats or, during recorded games, zoom the camera around the field," said Jack Buser, senior director of PlayStation digital platforms. "This points to the future of how we'll enjoy and interact with our media."