What streaming platforms can learn from gaming about cross-device measurement
As the CTV industry grapples with ongoing measurement challenges exacerbated by an increasingly fragmented ecosystem, it only makes sense to take a page from gaming’s book, writes Frameplay’s Cary Tilds.
/ Dean Geurts
If Hollywood wanted another show about unsolved mysteries, it could follow the lives of advertising execs as they try to stitch together the data mystery in the connected television (CTV) streaming space. It would be a real nail-biter.
The CTV streaming industry continues to struggle with significant fragmentation and a lack of transparency. While growth in the space is still projected, the industry has yet to agree on a standardized, verified answer to its most fundamental question: Who is actually watching?
The power of known interaction
CTV media players might want to look to the gaming industry to solve that challenge. The gaming industry is forging ahead with a standard for viewable impression and audience measurement for in-game advertising (IGA) intrinsically embedded in computer and video games — led by industry authorities like the Interactive Advertising Bureau and the Media Rating Council — that show advertisers the efficacy of their investments. Gaming was able to sidestep some of CTV’s biggest measurement challenges by determining a universal way to address, with high precision and accuracy, if someone actually saw a given ad. Not only does this mean that gaming can offer advertisers more reliable metrics, but it may push the CTV industry to also produce viewability and attention metrics.
A recent Nielsen report claims that brand advertisers are allocating close to 50% of their video budgets to streaming, up from 10% pre-pandemic. That’s a massive leap given the ever-changing options for allocating ad spend (think social media, cable TV, even the emergent metaverse).
The investment feels over-indexed relative to the opportunity in the gaming space. When we think about how we consume shows on our favorite streaming apps, it’s generally a passive experience. Maybe it’s a guilty pleasure we watch alone or a series finale we watch with a dozen other people in the room. Ads become breaks to check our phones, talk to friends, or grab a snack. Rarely will someone pause an ad so they can watch it when they return from the bathroom. But playing a video game with intrinsic ads creates an entirely different situation.
Video games are essentially cinematic-quality content in which people can engage and interact. The gaming industry has technology that can understand when a person is actively playing the game. Thanks to seamless, non-disruptive advertising known as intrinsic in-game advertising, we are able to understand anonymized game session activity including which ad is being served. All of this is used to calculate reliable viewability metrics for every ad shown — something that CTV can’t do yet.
This isn’t to say that gaming can’t fall victim to audience duplication and other common advertising pitfalls. But gaming has one superpower that other content channels lack, which is known interaction with the content. Even if gamers are anonymous, we can understand patterns of game play relative to the ad exposures as these are only tied to active play. No other medium has this much knowledge of a consumer’s interaction with the content, and therefore, associated ads.
There are several challenges that the CTV industry is trying to solve, including fragmentation, accessibility, measurement and a lack of standardization. Experts at the IAB Tech Lab suggest that delivering fully on the promise of CTV requires that the industry establish a set of technical standards that allow for seamless interoperability.
The industry can look to gaming to solve these challenges, too. When it comes to ad measurement for in-game experiences, viewability is a top metric. Some providers are able to measure the length of time that an ad impression is viewable during gameplay. This often involves complex pixel analysis within the game that accesses the ad ratio, skew and obstruction from the visual perspective of the player. CTV industry players should invest more time and resources into developing similar solutions.
The gaming industry also boasts a better ability to measure what a user did after they encountered an ad and then stopped playing the game — such as whether they visited the app or website related to the brand shown in the ad. Gamers don’t want to click on an ad while they are playing a game, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to interact with the brand after gameplay has stopped. These metrics are available to advertisers, thanks to impression attribution, which provides evidence for conversions.
Video games are the most popular and profitable form of entertainment today, with 64% of adults in the US playing, per recent data from the Entertainment Software Association. Lucky for advertisers, the industry is capable of understanding a lot about the players, including how they view the game at any given time. Consumers who play video games are engaging in a lean-forward experience; with intrinsic in-game advertising, we are able to measure if someone saw the ad within the game and even if they interacted with the brand after the gaming session.
As the CTV industry looks to solve the puzzle of cross-device measurement and standardization, the video game industry should serve as an example of making it work. The consistency in gaming and CTV viewership data is an ongoing challenge that will only be solved through developing leading capabilities, practicing collaboration and standardizing viewability metrics. The gaming industry is setting the standard for what others can learn about measuring their respective worlds.
Cary Tilds is chief strategy and operations officer at Frameplay.