To Embrace Diversity, Brands Are Leading By Example

Diversity has been a hot-button topic this year in the worlds of marketing, entertainment and beyond. As public views on gender roles evolve and countries increasingly become melting pots of culture, brands know they can’t rely on the traditional conventions of advertising anymore. Here are some of the ways marketers embraced diversity this year.

Banding Together For Change

During the 2017 Cannes Lions festival, a digital billboard created by Mother London read, “Stop talking about equality and make it happen.” Since marketing affects public perception of products, groups and ideas, the marketing industry is stepping forward to be a leader for change.

Founded by UN Women, a global organization that fights for gender equality, the Unstereotype Alliance was unveiled at Cannes Lions and includes some of the world’s top brands. Global marketing leaders including Facebook, Google, AT&T, Unilever, Mars, Mattel and Twitter each pledged to use non-biased portrayals of women and men in their advertising.

“We believe cross-sector collaboration will lead to sustained transformation,” Keith Weed, chief marketing and communications officer at Unilever said in a statement. “This is no longer just a social imperative but a business one—progressive ads have been found to be 25 percent more effective and deliver better branded impact.”

Leading By Example

Smirnoff has been a long-time supporter of diversity when it comes to love. This year, the vodka brand created limited-edition bottles of Smirnoff No. 21 vodka that feature photographs of real LGBTQ couples. Each #LoveWins bottle, like each couple, is one of a kind. For every bottle purchased, Smirnoff will donate $1 to the Human Rights Campaign. The company plans to repeat the campaign next year, as well.

“Our goal is to create more welcoming environments for the LGBTQ+ community across the US,” Smirnoff says on the campaign’s microsite. “Thanks for your support and friendship. When we stick together, Love Wins.”

Beauty brand Glossier created a body-positive campaign to promote its new “Body Hero” products. Its combined digital efforts garnered an impressive $33,000 of Earned Media Value in just one week.

The campaign features five models from different walks of life and different body types, all posing in the nude. Body Hero is modeled by plus-sized model Paloma Elsesser, a pregnant Swin Cash (retired basketball player and Olympic Gold medalist), Trialspark clinical research coordinator and influencer Mekdes Mersha, LPA clothing brand creative director Lara Pia Arrobio and Tyler Haney, founder of sportswear brand Outdoor Voices.

Learning Together

When a brand promotes gender equality, 48 percent of both men and women surveyed say they feel more loyal toward it, according to an August study by Facebook IQ. Fifty-one percent of women said they would prefer to shop from such a brand, compared to 45 percent of men. Facebook’s survey found that 75 percent of women believe the most important thing brands can do to promote gender equality is to stop portraying women as sex symbols.

“Marketing doesn’t just reflect culture—it shapes it,” says Facebook alongside its study findings. “Contribute to social good and capture consumers’ attention by busting stereotypes and promoting positive, empowering depictions of people of all genders.”

Facebook currently offers more than 70 gender options, as well the ability for users to add their own. For the purposes of this study, Facebook divided answers between men and women only and did not specify whether each gender was the one respondents were born with.

The Gina Davis Institute on Gender in Media regularly analyzes Hollywood films and advertisements to accurately determine how much diversity there really is. Rather than simply “talk about equality,” as Mother London said, The Gina Davis Institute digs deeper to understand both current representation strengths and weaknesses so brands can react to facts rather than emotion alone.

For example, a recent study found that of more than 2,000 Cannes Lions films from 2006 to 2016, women only accounted for about one-third of characters on screen. Additionally, male characters speak about seven times more than their female counterparts.

While the figures may seem discouraging, a wide range of companies and educators are turning to this information to invite change.

“There’s infinite possibility,” said Madeline Di Nonno, CEO of the Geena Davis Institute. “We’re excited because it allows us to reveal a level of unconscious bias that isn’t possible with the human eye, and it’s able to go much deeper.”

Mobile Games Embrace Rewarded Video; Marketers Aren’t Innovating With Video Ads

Mobile game developer opinions on advertising as a revenue source have shifted drastically in the past year. A survey by deltaDNA found that 49 percent of free-to-play developers view in-game ads as “an important monetization opportunity” and 21 percent claim that ads “enhance player progress,” almost double from last year. Just one year ago, 51 percent saw ads as a “necessary evil,” marking an almost complete turnaround.

The research also finds that rewarded video ads are now the most used format at 58 percent of all games, with standard video ads and banner ads lagging behind at 38 and 34 percent, respectively.

A new survey by Innovid indicates that marketers are grading themselves harshly when it comes to their video advertising efforts. Just 6 percent characterized themselves as innovators in video ads, despite 80 percent expecting an increase in their video advertising budgets in the coming year.

“Many marketers seem to be coming down hard on their own video marketing efforts, but it is also clear that there is so much untapped potential and optimism about video marketing and its impact on consumers to be harnessed in the year to come,” said Beth-Ann Eason, president of Innovid.

According to Innovid’s analysis, the three major factors holding brands back with video ads are limited budgets, lack of internal experience and lack of prioritization of the format.

Global smartphone shipments are expected to reach 1.5 billion units in 2018, according to new research by Digitimes, growing 5 percent annually. Much of this growth is expected from emerging markets in Southeast Asia, South America and Africa, with phone shipments projected to increase by 60-to-70 million units per year through 2022.

(Editor’s Note: This post will be updated until Friday, December 1.)

Facebook Co-Founder Andrew McCollum Shares His Plans For A New OTT Service

Andrew McCollum, Philo CEO

“Cord cutters,” a.k.a. people who give up cable television for streaming services, are becoming increasingly common, especially among younger audiences. Digital television platforms such as Netflix and Hulu have been steadily growing to bring viewers content on practically any device, making it challenging for new services to enter the space. But the new digital TV service Philo—named after Philo Farnsworth, the founder of the all-electronic television—is taking up the task by not competing.

Philo launched its mainstream business in November, giving audiences access to channels and shows while connecting through an integrated social platform. But instead of positioning itself as a competitor to services like Hulu, the live TV streaming and DVR service is presenting itself as a complementary subscription.

“People love TV, but they don’t love the ways to watch TV,” Philo CEO Andrew McCollum, formerly a founding member of Facebook, told AListDaily. “If you use Philo and combine it with Netflix or other streaming services or a digital antenna, you can build your own content packages.”

Philo started six years ago, catering to the college market while it refined its technology and established relationships with content providers. The company is now entering the mainstream market with partners that include Viacom, AMC, A&E, Discovery and others, who have collectively given Philo a strategic investment of $25 million along with access to their channels.

College students are satisfied with the service, according to McCollum, who cited a survey that says of over 2,000 students, 90 percent indicated that they wanted to take Philo with them. The company is developing opportunities to migrate this existing audience over to the mainstream service. In the meantime, Philo is investing heavily in PR, social and word-of-mouth marketing before it considers a deeper marketing spend.

A considerable part of the word-of-mouth approach is likely tied into the service’s social features, as McCollum’s interest in bringing social design to products still remains from his time at Facebook. Viewers can recommend the shows that they’re watching to others, even if they’re not signed up with Philo yet. In those instances, the recommendation comes with an invitation to start a free trial. Once in, can immediately jump into the show and check out what their friends are watching. There are also some features for synchronized viewing experiences.

Philo differentiates itself from live TV services such as PlayStation Vue by not including broadcast network or sports channels that other subscriptions have, according to McCollum, thereby removing the high premium that comes with them.

“We wanted to create a different choice in the market with more flexibility in building the content they care about,” McCollum said. “Most of the other services have broadcast and sports-focused packages. We’ve tried to differentiate on the package side by offering entertainment, lifestyle and knowledge channels. We’re also differentiating by price and we’ve tried to innovate on product by making it easy to use with a social dimension added to the experience.”

Philo has no plans to compete with platforms such as Hulu or Netflix through original content, nor does the service offer access to premium channels such as HBO, but McCollum said that they’re currently in talks to have the latter added. For now, he’s comfortable with the idea of audiences using Philo to supplement other streaming platforms such as Amazon Prime Video, which do offer these types of content.

“Some of these services aren’t really competitive to us—they’re largely complementary—so you can sign up for more than one,” McCollum said.

Newzoo Predicts A New Gaming Boom For The Coming Years

Game software revenues will reach $116 billion in 2017, according to updated estimates by Newzoo—$7.1 billion higher than estimates made at the beginning of the year. Based on industry performance over the first three quarters of 2017, Newzoo predicts a new gaming boom between now and the year 2020, especially in the mobile sector.

Mobile Leads The Way

Mobile revenue estimates were adjusted the most out of all game industry segments analyzed. Newzoo has changed its initial $46.1 billion estimates to $50.4 billion. Mobile accounts for over a third of global game market revenue at 34 percent this year, and will grow to 41 percent of the market by 2020, the analyst firm states. The mobile sector is currently growing at a rate of 23.3 percent year-over-year.

Growing at a rate of 1.4 percent year-over-year, PC gaming revenue has also been adjusted upward from $29.4 to $32.3 billion. Boxed/downloaded PC titles account for 23 percent of the global games market in 2017, but this will drop to 21 percent by 2020 according to the latest estimates. Browser PC games account for four percent but will drop to three percent by 2020.

Console gaming, meanwhile, will end the year at $33.3 billion—slightly below anticipated revenue levels. The segment is still experiencing year-over-year growth of 3.7 percent, Newzoo notes. The console segment accounts for 29 percent of the total market.

Competitive Play Fuels Growth

Looking at individual game titles on console, PC and mobile, Newzoo found that a growing share of overall game time is occupied by titles with competitive, team play, rankings and livestreaming.

“On mobile, this is particularly true in China and the rest of Asia but also in the West, where competitive mobile titles are increasingly in the top grossing charts,” said Newzoo in its findings. “This has renewed confidence among the biggest Chinese publishers to bring their games to the West.”

The analyst firm notes a growing abundance of new mobile battle royale titles sparked by the success of Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds on PC. This trend, Newzoo says, could add to the rise of competitive gaming on mobile in the West.

Esports could continue its upward trajectory to reach $2.4 billion in 2020 by optimistic estimates.

Onward And Upward

At its current rate, Newzoo expects the current growth of the global games market to continue with a CAGR of 8.2+ percent to reach revenues of $143.5 billion in 2020.

Newzoo tracks and analyzes game revenues generated and reported by over 100 public companies. The analyst firm observed that the highest-grossing companies account for more than 80 percent of global game revenues this year. This figure has grown from 75 percent in 2016.

At the current growth rates of both markets, game revenues will surpass sports revenues in three or four years from now, according to the report. If we add revenues from console gaming hardware (around $10 billion this year) and PC gaming systems and peripherals (around $23 billion in total), gaming is already a bigger global business than sports. This year, gaming will generate more than three times the $38.6 billion in movie ticket sales reported for 2016 by the Motion Picture Association of America.

Cyber Monday, Black Friday Sales Exceed Expectations Despite Email Marketing Missteps

Cyber Monday has arrived, and Adobe is predicting that it will be the largest online shopping day in America’s history. As of 4:30 p.m. ET, $3.38 billion has been spent at online retailers, a 17 percent increase over last year.

“As consumers make their way back to work, they are poised to be hitting the buy button all day, as most big discounts will end by midnight,” Tamara Gaffney, strategic insights engagement group director at Adobe, said in a press release. “A lot more of this will be happening on smartphones as well, where smoother buying experiences through auto-fill capabilities are helping drive the growth we see in mobile.”

Though mobile still lags behind desktop as a driver of revenue for Cyber Monday, it’s growing rapidly. Thirty percent of all online shopping revenue has come from smartphones on Cyber Monday so far, a 41 percent increase over last year.

Conversion rates on smartphones are likewise lagging, but catching up quick. Compared to desktop’s figure of 4.8 percent, smartphones’ 2.5 percent conversion rate may seem paltry, but represents an increase of 12 percent year over year while desktop’s growth was a more modest 5 percent.

The Black Friday weekend has come to a close, which means that a veritable tidal wave of sales statistics is now available for public consumption.

Between Thanksgiving and Black Friday, total retailer revenue increased by 23 percent from 2016, while the total number of purchases increased by 11 percent, according to data by Rakuten Marketing. This growth was driven disproportionately by online sales, which grew 28 percent in revenue and 35 percent in purchase volume year over year.

Rakuten’s information indicates an increase in the “spreading” of Black Friday across the full holiday season. Though online revenue on Friday alone grew by 21 percent this year, purchase volume itself decreased by 3 percent. On average, consumers spent 24 percent more per order over 2016. According to Rakuten, this is indicative of consumers shopping across several days, waiting until Black Friday to purchase the most expensive items.

In the days prior to Thanksgiving weekend, click-through rates on digital ads jumped by 154 percent, while engagement increased by 111 percent as well. This indicates that consumers are researching their shopping lists in advance of peak shopping days, per Rakuten.

Consumer shopping is shifting more toward mobile, Rakuten’s data also found. Forty-six percent of all retail page views during the week of Thanksgiving came from mobile devices, and revenue from phone shopping increased by 43 percent this year.

Despite rampant sales growth during Thanksgiving week, email marketing messages are lagging, according to reports by Forrester Research. While close to 90 percent of businesses claim that personalizing consumer messages is a priority, only 40 percent of message recipients report seeing deals relevant to their interests.

A report from Yes Lifecycle Marketing found that while retailers sent 15 percent more marketing emails last year, open rates likewise fell by 15 percent from 2015. Though specific targeting can drive user engagement, simpler, broader strategies can bring more consumers in without the risk of giving irrelevant information. For example, the same Yes Lifecycle Marketing report found that emails with “Cyber Monday” in the subject line drove 53 percent more engagements than ones with “Black Friday.”

“Our data shows that conventional thinking around email marketing practices is not always on the mark,” said Michael Fisher, president of Yes Lifecycle Marketing.

Looming Net Neutrality Repeal Creates Uncertainty For Marketers

With net neutrality on the chopping block, marketers may be wondering how a repeal of the FCC’s Open Internet Order would impact them. The answer depends on what internet service providers (ISP) choose to do with that power.

What Is Net Neutrality?

Instated in 2015, net neutrality rules—sometimes referred to as “internet freedom” or the “open internet”—protect US consumers against preferential treatment by ISPs. Broadband service providers cannot block or deliberately slow speeds for internet services or apps, favor some internet traffic in exchange for consideration or engage in other practices that harm internet openness.

The current net neutrality rules are based on Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, which protects consumer access to necessary utilities. The 2015 rules allow the FCC to oversee internet providers as if they are utilities or “common carriers” like a standard landline phone system. Those for an open internet claim that more regulations on ISPs keep them from abusing their power. Those against say the rules are stifling innovation, including smaller internet providers who can’t afford regulation fees.

A repeal of these regulations would enable ISPs to create “fast lanes” for sites they directly benefit from and slower internet speeds for everyone else. In addition, these providers would be able to block or deliberately slow speeds for sites that are in direct competition, are owned by competition or who refuse to pay a higher rate. The only difference is that ISPs would have to publicly disclose these actions.

However, this doesn’t mean ISPs like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, which support the repeal of net neutrality rules, will hold online access for ransom.

“The truth of the matter is that we decided to abandon successful policies solely because of hypothetical harms and hysterical prophecies of doom,” said FCC chairman Ajit Pai in an April statement.

Comcast promises consumers that it will stay true to its net neutrality policies, regardless of the regulations in place. AT&T has made similar statements, while actively pursuing a repeal.

“We agree that no company should be allowed to block content or throttle the download speeds of content in a discriminatory manner,” AT&T said in a July statement.

But consumers are outraged by the fact that ISPs could play favorites, and some have been accused of doing so in the past.

Why Marketers Should Care About An Open Internet

Equal access to the internet means equal opportunity for consumers to view digital advertising. With Google and Facebook accounting for more than 60 percent of digital ad spend this year, prices may go up next year if they are forced to pay for internet fast lanes.

A deliberate disparity in internet speeds could make or break return on investment (ROI) for a marketer. Let’s say your company is a sportswear outlet and you purchase advertising on ESPN. Without net neutrality, Verizon—which owns Yahoo and AOL—could offer faster speeds on websites like Yahoo Sports and slower speeds on competitors like ESPN or Sports Illustrated. Suddenly, your ads load slower and fail to reach their intended audience.

Recent studies show that 40 percent of consumers will leave a mobile website if it fails to load in three seconds or less. If a publisher is forced to upgrade their internet service plan, that cost may roll downhill to its advertisers.

ISPs may also incentivize its customers to visit preferred content by striking deals with publishers. For example, visiting a preferred publisher wouldn’t count against mobile user data plans, while competitor sites would. Media firms trafficked by incentivized mobile carriers may spend more to be seen and increase ad prices for marketers. AListDaily reached out to IAB about how the FCC’s ruling could affect marketers, but it did not respond by the publishing deadline.

If the repeal of net neutrality rules does allow ISPs more funds to invest in innovation, faster speeds and new technology, that may offer marketers more ways to reach consumers. Faster speeds could mean the difference between a display ad and an interactive video, for example. Comcast and Verizon have both invested a great deal in esports, and are therefore more likely to favor the video game industry when it comes to internet speeds—good news for sponsoring brands.

Should an ISP choose to play favorites, consumers might have the option to choose another carrier and let competition drive the market. That is, of course, if ISPs follow FCC rules on transparency and consumers take the time to read said disclosures.

“Any ISP that is so foolish as to seek to engage in gatekeeping will be quickly and decisively called out,” said AT&T.

With some of the world’s largest companies on either side of the open internet debate, time will tell which marketers benefit from a repeal.

‘Coco’ Marketing Focuses On Music, Family And Tradition

Disney/Pixar’s Coco is now in US theaters, poised to top the Thanksgiving weekend box office as Moana did last year. Together with Disney’s brand partners, marketing for the film focuses on Mexican culture and tradition, a love of music and the importance of family.

Disney stories tend to center around finding one’s place in the world, and Coco is no exception. The film’s main character is a young boy named Miguel who dreams of becoming a famous musician like Ernesto de la Cruz, a deceased Mexican musician and film star. Unfortunately for him, his family has banned all music, so Miguel and his dog Dante travel across the Land of the Dead to find his idol while uncovering the truth about his family’s aversion to music.

Music is at the heart of the film’s story and Miguel’s motivations, so Disney/Pixar teamed up with Cordoba to create custom acoustic guitars inspired by Coco. The guitars are available at Guitar Center and several were given away as a surprise to fans on social media.

“Remember Me,” the film’s theme song, was prominently featured on Dancing With the Stars in October.

The Land of the Dead is as much of a character in Coco as Miguel, if not more so. So, it’s fitting that this colorful world of the afterlife would become the subject of Pixar’s first-ever VR experience.

Coco VR allows up to three people to explore and interact with The Land of the Dead using Samsung Gear VR and Oculus Rift headsets. The free 20-minute branded adventure has users create their own calaca avatars—skeletons decorated in the traditional Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) style. A photo studio inside the experience lets users take selfies, an art studio displays concept art with behind-the-scenes footage and users can ride a gondola above the city or hang out in a central plaza.

“Going to the theater is a semi-social experience—you watch a film together, but it’s passive,” explains Oculus executive producer Yelena Rachitsky in a company blog post. “In VR, you can actually go on an adventure with a friend. These experiences can create lasting memories, just like going on a trip together.”

Demos of Coco VR were provided at select Dia de Los Muertos festivities, and at participating Disney Stores and movie theaters through November 19. Disney/Pixar even participated in the festivities with a Dia de Los Muertos parade float.

Dia de los Muertos is a yearly Mexican celebration that honors family members who have passed away. Family—both alive and those living as skeletons in the Land of the Dead—play an important role in Coco.

Since Miguel is discovering his heritage, Ancestry teamed up with Disney/Pixar to help two of the Coco filmmakers do the same. The historical records site is offering special discounts in honor of the film’s release through November 23.

Latino-American network Mitú further explored family members and tradition by paying an unexpected visit to a host’s abuelita (little grandmother). The video earned over 2.5 million views over a span of a week.

Mexican food company Herdez hosted a cooking stream on Facebook Live and is offering free tickets to see Coco, as well as a trip for two for a culinary tour in Mexico.

Meanwhile, Airbnb is promoting Coco by suggesting family-friendly trips and experiences in Mexico.

Coco is already the largest single film release in Mexico, thanks to its native themes and a well-timed premiere with Dia de Los Muertos. In the US, the Hispanic population has reached a record 58.6 million in 2017, according to the Census Bureau’s latest estimates. Appealing to the second-largest racial/ethnic group in the US, along with select Spanish dubbed and subtitled engagements, should bode well for Disney/Pixar’s new animated tale.

Coco is expected to bring in between $55 million and $60 million over its first box office weekend in US theaters and will likely overtake Justice League for the number one position.

Schick Hydro Emphasizes Innovation To Connect With ‘The Game Awards’ Audience

Anastasia Tobias, Schick Hydro senior brand manager at Edgewell Personal Care

Since its first appearance at The Game Awards last year, Schick Hydro has been working to connect its non-endemic brand with the gaming audience. Now, Schick is ready to take on the awards show circuit yet again, this time as the official sponsor for the Best Debut Indie Game award, one of over a dozen different categories fans can vote on.

By aligning with the growing indie development scene, the brand aims to connect with the spirit of innovation in the gaming space.

The “passion for innovation” is the crux of Schick Hydro’s partnership with this year’s The Game Awards, Anastasia Tobias, Schick Hydro senior brand manager at Edgewell Personal Care, told AListDaily.

“Innovation is about challenging the status quo to create something that enhances people’s lives,” said Tobias.

Tobias described Schick Hydro as a challenger brand that’s continually evolving, and that’s why it has chosen to spotlight indie games and developers at The Game Awards this year. She said that as a brand that invests in innovation, it’s important for Schick Hydro to support other innovators, too.

As part of the sponsorship, Schick Hydro recently hosted its first 48-hour indie game jam in partnership with Playcrafting. Twenty developers worked to create games inspired by Schick Hydro’s “protect and defend” message, referring to the signature gel strip found on its razor products. Game jam creations will be shown alongside Best Debut Indie Game nominees at the Schick Hydro sponsored arcade experience at the Microsoft Theater when The Game Awards premieres on Dec. 7. Additionally, Schick will be giving away game keys for Best Debut Indie Game nominee titles that include CupheadMr. ShiftySlime Rancher and more.

Tobias said that, as a non-endemic sponsor, it’s important to support developers and gamers that use entertainment to enhance the lives of others through “experiences that cultivate their creativity, encourage their individuality and passion and enable them to continue sharing their craft.”

The Game Awards partnership further proves that non-endemic brands don’t necessarily have to turn to esports to get into the gaming scene. The grooming brand developed a shaving-themed video game that was featured at New York Comic Con in October while the Schick Hydrobot posed for pictures and professional groomsters gave attendees shaves.

“Schick Hydro is committed to creating unique opportunities to celebrate the shared passion we have with the gaming community—to create and make people’s lives better,” said Tobias. “This community is rooted in diverse self-expression, motivated by a desire to create their own story.”

How The New York Yankees Will Shape Esports

Stratton Sclavos, general partner at Vision Venture Partners

If there are still brands sitting in the outfield wondering whether esports is a legitimate business to explore, the New York Yankees have provided a great reason to swing for the fences. The iconic Major League Baseball team is the latest traditional sports organization to enter into esports by investing in Vision Esports (part of Vision Venture Partners), the umbrella company for Rick Fox’s Echo Fox, Jace Hall’s Twin Galaxies and Vision Entertainment, which creates video content for esports.

Stratton Sclavos, general partner at Vision Venture Partners, told AListDaily that the Yankees bring great credibility to the esports world in general and Vision Esports in particular, thanks to the team’s global brand recognition.

“Their endorsement signals to the world that esports is going mainstream,” Sclavos explained. “We’ve already seen tremendous new interest in Vision Esports and our three portfolio companies since the Yankees’ announcement.”

Sclavos said that the Yankees’ marketing and sponsorship teams have longstanding business relationships with in-demand non-endemic brands, so the introductions and bundling opportunities alone are invaluable.

The Yankees will bring its marketing, sales and partnership experience to help all three companies accelerate their growth and expand their business relationships. The sports franchise and Vision Esports leadership will manage the three esports properties in a manner that’s similar to traditional professional sports properties. Sclavos said this philosophy includes seeking to maximize revenue opportunities for advertising, sponsorships, media and broadcast rights, merchandise and ticket sales, naming rights and original content programming for both broadcast and streaming distribution formats. In addition, the two will collaborate on marketing and sponsorship initiatives across assets.

“The Yankees have a number of business assets that we hope to access through our new relationship,” Sclavos said. “Beyond the obvious brand affiliation, we hope to find ways to work with their sales organization to create new advertising and sponsorship packages that couple their traditional offerings with our esports offerings. We will look for opportunities to utilize their physical venues for live event productions.”

Vision Esports has been designed to service the professional esports ecosystem, which itself has grown to replicate the traditional sports ecosystem through league level governance, official league sponsors, and revenue sharing with teams. There are also team-level sponsors, advertisers, fan base monetization, and player endorsements in addition to broadcast rights licensing for national, local and international distribution of live event programming. Not to mention the creation and distribution of original content programming with media rights licensing.

Sclavos said Echo Fox mirrors a traditional professional sports team organization with rosters, players, fan base monetization, and original content for “local” programming. Echo Fox teams compete in games such as League of Legends, Call of Duty and H1Z1 along with several fighting game titles.

Twin Galaxies mirrors a traditional professional sports league with governance, broadcast rights licensing, official league sponsorships and original content licensing while Vision Entertainment mirrors a traditional entertainment studio focused on development and production of professional esports content, both in scripted an unscripted forms

“Gaming culture is unique, and our management team has decades of experience in video game publishing, technology innovation, original content production for both broadcast and online distribution, and professional sports team ownership and management,” Sclavos said.

One of the early Vision Esports initiatives is the H1Z1 Pro League, which will launch in early 2018 through a partnership with Daybreak Games. Twin Galaxies was on hand at the recent $500,000 H1Z1 Invitational at TwitchCon 2017 to capture video content and begin organizing the league.

“We believe that the H1Z1 Pro League will be the next successful esport league,” Sclavos said. “The battle royale format, where 15 teams all compete against each other every week, is full of drama and ripe for team and player rivalries. We’ve already seen interest from established esports team organizations that is five times our expectations.”

The H1Z1 Pro League will use Twin Galaxies for league rules, team selection, league governance, official league sponsor sales and broadcast rights licensing. Rick Fox was one of the first team owners to commit to H1Z1 as an esport, and Vision Entertainment will handle the production of all 24 weeks of Pro League live events and shoulder both original and player streamed content. Pro gamers are being offered a baseline salary of $50K, a comprehensive Player Bill of Rights, no entry fees for teams joining the league, and revenue sharing between the teams and league and much more.

While H1Z1 faces formidable challenges from similar games and other esports titles, this is one area where the marketing muscle of the Yankees can come into play. H1Z1 has the potential to appeal to both core gamers and a more mainstream audience, so Vision Esports needs to leverage the Yankees marketing muscle to help it take off.

Amazon’s Ruthless March Toward Black Friday

It’s Goliath versus an army filled with many Davids this holiday season. Amazon has long been a threat on its own to conventional retailers, but leading up to Black Friday the company set its sights on companies like Walmart and Kroger to actively poach their customers, even at loss to itself.

Starting Early, Forcing Hands

Amazon kicked off its Black Friday efforts early this year, launching its “Countdown to Black Friday” deals on Nov. 1, a full two weeks earlier than it did with its “Road To Black Friday” sale in 2016. In addition to snatching up potential customers earlier, it forced many other retailers to respond. Within the next week, Black Friday ads “leaked” from the likes of Target (Nov. 6), Kmart (Nov. 7) and Best Buy (Nov. 8), just to name a few.

However, beyond just putting its competitors on the back foot to begin with, Amazon’s Black Friday countdown included deals and sales that were impossible for physical retailers to match in lightning deals. By posting limited-time offers on small batches of items, Amazon encouraged frequent check-ins and impulse purchases, both of which escaped the grasp of brick-and-mortar stores.

Subsidized Discounts

As powerful as Amazon is, it has no direct control over the prices set by third-party sellers, meaning that competitors can still undercut the e-retailer on items it does not produce itself. However, beginning Nov. 6, Amazon started subsidizing discounts on third-party items, paying sellers the difference out of pocket.

The notice on Amazon’s seller forums is terse, and though it offers third-party merchants the option to opt out if they choose, the company does not need to provide them with advance notice before offering discounts to consumers.

So far the discounts have been minor, yet significant. The Wall Street Journal reported that discounts topped out at 9 percent, meaning that they won’t draw in especially deal-hungry consumers, but can squeeze past physical retailers who don’t offer price-matching guarantees for products bought from third-party sellers online.

Prime . . . The Greatest Gift Of All

The main product that Amazon is trying to push for Black Friday is also the one it’s not discounting. After acquiring Whole Foods in August, the e-retailer slashed prices across several categories, aligning the upper-crust marketplace more closely with Amazon’s own tactics. This shift came further into focus on Nov. 20, when the company announced Prime-exclusive deals at Whole Foods on Thanksgiving-traditional foods.

As of April of this year, Amazon Prime has more than 80 million subscribers, and founder Jeff Bezos himself has stated that his goal is to make it “irresponsible not to be a member” back in 2016. Stories have already surfaced suggesting subscribing to Prime for Black Friday alone.

While physical retailers are stuck selling price-sensitive, one-off purchases in TVs, toys and appliances, Amazon is pushing consumers to join Prime, leading to nearly doubled yearly spending per conversion.

Stores like Walmart are shackled to the holiday season to meet their sales targets for the year. Amazon, on the other hand, can pull holiday seasons out of thin air.