YouTube’s Brand Safety Team Expansion Marks Shift From Automation

As part of the Alphabet-Facebook advertising duopoly, YouTube’s heavy reliance on algorithmic suggestions and policing have drawn both high-spending advertisers and creators seeking to game the system without actually producing quality content. In response to “bad actors” jeopardizing brand safety on its platform, YouTube is making sweeping changes to its content-review team.

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki announced Monday that they will enlist 10,000 employees to moderate and review policy-violating content on YouTube, ensuring that that video platform will have stricter criteria on the channels that can earn from ads. It marks a shift from a mostly automated system that was previously in place.

“We are planning to apply stricter criteria and conduct more manual curation, while also significantly ramping up our team of ad reviewers to ensure ads are only running where they should,” Wojcicki said. “We want to give creators confidence that their revenue won’t be harmed by bad actors while giving advertisers assurances that their ads are running alongside content that reflects their brand’s values.”

Wojcicki announced plans to also expand the network of academics, experts and industry groups YouTube consults in making its policy decisions, but did not give any further details.

YouTube has been on the hot seat for its monetization and advertising practices for months now, doing its best to balance corporate concerns about brand safety with creator concerns about revenue stability. Up until now, however, the video platform heavily favored the former, leading to confusing and seemingly arbitrary demonetization of innocuous content by gung-ho bots.

Despite the expansion of Google’s human team to hunt bad actors, Wojcicki affirmed the company’s commitment to relying on machine learning to handle the bulk of its content reviewing. According to YouTube’s internal metrics, its algorithms have flagged and removed 98 percent of violent extremism videos, 70 percent of which were flagged and removed within eight hours of being uploaded. In the future, the company will expand its algorithmic flagging to other areas, including child safety and hate speech.

“As challenges to our platform evolve and change, our enforcement methods must and will evolve to respond to them,” Wojcicki said.

Since YouTube is the top-rated platform for video ad viewability and Alphabet is the world’s largest advertiser, brands and marketers have little choice other than to wait and see when Wojcicki’s words will begin to hold serious weight.

Fingerprint Connects Kids And Parents With ‘Edutainment’ Content

Nancy Macintyre, co-founder and CEO of Fingerprint

With millions of apps available, the mobile market has become an extremely crowded space, making discovery for new apps a major problem. This issue may be even more challenging for child-oriented apps geared towards education or entertainment because they have to reach two audiences: the children who play the apps and the parents who oftentimes approve and download them.

One way to get around over-saturated app stores is by taking content to secondary means such as Fingerprint, which is a subscription service focused on distributing games, books and videos to kids through its mobile platform and gives brands an opportunity to reach new audiences outside the app-store environment.

“There comes a moment of truth during the trial period of a subscription product where a parent asks, ‘are you still playing with it?’, ‘do you like it?’ or ‘what are you learning?’” Fingerprint co-founder and CEO Nancy Macintyre told AListDaily. “If the child answers positively, the parent subscribes; and as long as we pass that monthly moment of truth, the customer stays a customer. As marketers, we need to distinguish our value proposition to the parent, but then keep the child happily engaged to earn a subscriber.”

Fingerprint has content-licensing partnerships with over 300 brands, including Lionsgate, Mattel, Sesame Street and DreamWorks Studios, offering curated content to children ages three-through-eight. By being shown on a subscription service, education and entertainment apps have a better chance of reaching young audiences and apps aren’t competing with thousands of other applications to get to the audience.

Macintyre said that by having a curated library, content becomes more easily discoverable by children, stating that its users download over 20 apps per month, play over 90 minutes each day and spend about 75 percent of that time playing apps and the rest watching videos.

“An educational app needs to be just as entertaining as any game or book,” said Macintyre. “The play needs to keep the child excited about playing it over and over again.”

Macintyre said that Fingerprint appeals to parents by emphasizing safety and privacy. That means children can’t access content their parents may deem inappropriate, and apps on the platform don’t have ads or in-app purchases. They promote that value to parents—in particular to moms—distinguishing between the player and the payer.

For parents, they also market with messaging that indicates Fingerprint saves time by finding content through a curated service instead of browsing an app store. Once Fingerprint determines that an app meets its standards—both from a learning and educational perspective—the service then focuses on merchandising the app so that kids discover it, and play it.

Fingerprint also helps brands evaluate their apps to ensure kids find them engaging. According to Macintyre, that means analyzing the play data to recommending changes to the user experience and amping up the fun factor.

Although Macintyre admits that most children discover new content on YouTube before looking for related apps, she remains hopeful that more mobile apps will find ways to build massive audiences, the way Rovio did with Angry Birds. In the meantime, as fewer families are discovering content through television, learning apps must rely heavily on social media to gain awareness.

“Facebook in particular is the most powerful marketing channel for learning apps,” said Macintyre. “The ability to carefully target the consumer and share a range of high-value video or carousel ad units that truly explain the product features works well. Word-of-mouth from parent-to-parent is super important.”

When it comes to subscription services, Macintyre affirms that content is still king. Parents and children are always on the lookout for brands that they trust. Almost all of the partnered brands have their apps available for free outside of the service, but Macintyre said that their odds for discovery increase when they’re shown alongside other content on a curated service because of what she describes as the “Netflix effect.”

“Proximity to well-known apps and premium brands tends to lift exposure for all titles,” said Macintyre.

The family decision to subscribe to a service ultimately comes down to the parents and their goals for their children’s education. Engaging apps that inspire a love of learning helps inform that decision, and parents tend to take their cues from their kids.

GDPR Consent Compliance Tools For Marketers Revealed By IAB

In light of the swiftly approaching general data protection regulation (GDPR) compliance deadline on May 25, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) has announced new tools to ease the transition and standardize consent forms for data collectors.

The GDPR Consent Mechanism is a new “technical standard” that seeks to aid websites and advertisers in complying with the “affirmative consent” aspect of the new data privacy law in the EU. For those not in the know, the GDPR requires that companies processing European personal information simplify their terms and conditions when collecting user data and state exactly what they plan on using said data for.

Key features include:

  • Works on mobile devices and desktop devices alike
  • Enables dynamic disclosure by first parties of third-party advertising partners and the purposes for which they collect and process data
  • Allows obtaining “global” or “service-specific” affirmative consent, as well as updating consent choices and withdrawing consent
  • Enables the transmission of user consent choices to third-party advertising partners
  • Increases accountability in the advertising ecosystem by enabling the creation of consent records and an audit trail
  • Can be deployed before the date of application of the GDPR

“Advertising is a critical revenue stream for online services of all shapes and sizes, be they news publishers, mobile apps and other online media,” said Townsend Feehan, CEO of IAB Europe. “It is an important step that affected players have come together to develop a robust response to the new legislation.”

The IAB hopes that this new technology will become the industry standard, making obtaining and maintaining user consent records simpler and safer for everyone involved.

Though no information is available on when the technology will be officially released, the organization’s “Advertising Consent” website includes a mailing list for future updates.

Forrester recently predicted four out of every five firms affected by the GDPR will not comply by the time it goes into effect in May, but the IAB’s latest efforts are making the process easier for the companies affected by it.

“Companies relying on the future mechanism will have to adhere to principles and criteria that will be developed in consultation with brands, agencies, websites, publishers and tech companies,” the IAB’s press release reads. “These principles will contribute to greater mutual reassurance and trust between all ecosystem participants.”

Forrester Predicts Growth For Amazon, Apps, Decline For Programmatic Ad Spend

Forrester Research released yet another set of predictions forecasting the near-term effects of several of advertisers’ largest concerns, noting that ad spend on Amazon and mobile devices are set to increase while fraud, ad blocking and brand safety concerns will continue to influence spending.

According to the “2017 To 2021: US Online Display Advertising’s Great Reckoning” report, Amazon’s ad revenue will pass $2.5 billion by 2021, though other guesses already place the company’s earnings at $3.5 billion for this year alone.

Forrester predicts that this growth will come, in part, at the expense of Facebook and Google, though the total value of Amazon’s ad business is so minuscule by comparison that it’s unlikely to serve as a credible threat to the “duopoly” just yet.

Even if Amazon joins Facebook and Google’s playing field, it’s unlikely that the e-commerce giant will affect their “walled-garden” behavior in any significant fashion, given that it already acts just as, if not more, secretive about its advertising business.

While Amazon is predicted to eat up some of Google and Facebook’s share of consumer product advertising, Forrester predicts the duopoly will see significant growth on mobile. The report anticipates that mobile spending will shift increasingly to in-app ads, reaching 66 percent share by 2021. This bodes well for the pair of advertising giants, as both control the majority of the most-used apps in the ether.

According to Forrester, the shift will be driven, in part, by concerns about ad fraud and blocking, which will consistently waste 33 percent of all digital display ad dollars through 2021. Programmatic exchanges will suffer at the hands of smaller groups of more reliable private and direct-trading platforms, the firm predicts.

Though ads placed on Facebook, Google and Amazon may be more expensive than other programmatic options, marketers will opt to pay more for reliable measurement and safety.

“Marketers want more visibility on the inventory they buy and are willing to pay more to appear in a brand-safe environment that promotes viewability, controls fraud and makes sophisticated use of data for targeting,” the report reads. “The state of ad fraud and viewability in open programmatic will push them to implement tighter guide rails around their media buys.”

Pong 45th Anniversary Helps Usher In New Era For Atari

The first annual Pong Day has been declared, celebrating the 45th anniversary of Atari’s table tennis video game. First released on November 29, 1972, Pong became the first commercially successful video game and a source of nostalgia for many. Atari hopes this claim to fame—along with new products—will fuel its resurgence as a lifestyle brand.

“A lot of the things we are doing are rooted in the notion that Atari and Pong didn’t just start the video game industry, it launched a lifestyle movement that still endures today,” Atari Connect COO Michael Arzt told AListDaily. “Atari has the unique distinction of being able to say we were there at the beginning and are still here.”

In addition to publishing video games like Rollercoaster Tycoon, Atari now offers connected products beginning with its line of Speakerhats. These Audiowear-powered, Bluetooth-enabled Speakerhats play audio through speakers in the visor or headphones. In honor of Pong Day, a Pong Anniversary Limited-Edition Speakerhat has been added to the lineup.

Following a successful Kickstarter campaign, a coffee table version of Pong is expected to launch in the first quarter of 2018. Table Pong recreates the original game in 3D with motors, rails, pulleys, and magnets while offering Bluetooth connectivity and four USB charging ports.

Pong Day is designed to strike an emotional chord with generation X, which grew up with the game, but Atari also wants to reach younger audiences.

“For those old enough to remember, it’s a celebration of ‘the game that started it all’,” said Arzt. “So many of our classic Atari fans have fond memories of their first encounter with the revolutionary little TV game tucked in among the pinball machines at their local hangout, or the day that mom or dad brought home that box from Sears, tuned the TV to channel three and blew their minds.

“For younger video game fans, it’s a celebration of how far the industry has come—into an age of online PC gaming, 4K home consoles, advanced VR, mobile gaming, esports and so much more—that all started with a little beeping dot. It reminds game and entertainment fans of all ages where we’ve been and where we will go with exciting new products like the Ataribox, new games and our various lifestyle products.”

Atari received a boost in public awareness thanks to a prominent spot in the trailer for Blade Runner 2049. When the brand appeared in the original Blade Runner in 1982, it was still a new and popular gaming company. Much has happened since then, and although Atari’s elite video game status may have been overshadowed by PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo, it never stopped trying to create the next thing ‘that started it all.’

In the meantime, Atari is well aware of its naysayers.

“A lot of people like to dismiss us because we are not the same Atari that created Pong and the 2600, but it’s about the brand,” said Arzt. “It’s had ups and downs, but it’s endured, persevered and even triumphed on occasion. It’s still here and still means a whole lot to a lot of people because of all the fun its provided. As we continue to create new products for both our classic fans and new fans, that idea of the Atari Connected Lifestyle will thread through them all.”

If you think Atari is holding on to its past a little too tightly, it’s a great time to do just that. Shopping at the thrift store and buying albums on vinyl isn’t just for hipsters anymore.

“Clearly we’re in a wonderful pop-culture, retro-driven cycle right now where everything old is new again, and it’s a good time to be Atari,” said Arzt. “They say the definition of good luck is when preparation meets opportunity. We’ve been preparing for years!”

Arzt added that the brand has a lot of cool ideas and “a couple hundred iconic franchises to tap,” so Pong Day is just the beginning.

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.

Geoff Keighley Affirms Strategy For ‘Game Awards’ Digital Expansion

Geoff Keighley, executive producer and host for The Game Awards

The Game Awards is slated for December 7 at The Los Angeles Theater, having announced all of its categories for audiences to vote on, and the show is looking to grow further in its fourth year with more interactive features and broadcasts in additional countries.

Although the show is called The Game Awards, it’s more than just an awards show—it also breaks news and explores where video games are headed. This is proving to be a major attractor for both audiences and sponsors—especially since interest for mainstream awards shows begins to wane. That is underscored by the show’s mantra of reaching every gamer live on every video game screen, in addition to its continuous build-up of digital and social offerings to satiate multi-screen behavior among its digital viewership.

In an interview with AListDailyGeoff Keighley, executive producer and host of The Game Awards, exclusively announced that this year’s installment will allow people to vote through a live Twitter Direct Messenger and Facebook Messenger bot. The production team is also working with Google to allow fans to vote on categories through Google Search.

“Those ideas are things that we’re looking to pioneer,” Keighley said. “The general idea is to let users interact and let them feel like they’re part of the show by gamifying it . . . A lot of people were skeptical on whether an online streaming show would reach a mass audience. What we found was that every year, more people discover the show, and there are a lot of benefits to digital streaming. Especially as so many young consumers now either don’t have cable or have cut the cord.”

The Game Awards Global Platform Strategy: Growing Accessibility, Every Screen, Everywhere

One of the major benefits of being a digital-only production is global distribution. Last year’s show aired in China for the first time in partnership with Tencent, and the show plans to expand even further this year, supporting over eight languages live with distribution in Japan, Korea, Russia, Brazil and more.

“One thing that has been important to me is that you don’t need to sign up for anything or pay a subscription,” said Keighley. “We make the show very accessible, and because of that, it’s easy for people to share the show with their friends. They can just send the link and watch.”

Although the show may air a bit late for some audiences, data has shown that many will stay up and engage with it live. Furthermore, there’s high viewership within the first 24 hours after airing, as people either watch the entire program on demand or browse through the highlight clips. There’s even a partnership with Snapchat to produce The Game Awards as a three-to-five-minute Snapchat live story that recaps the show’s highlights, engaging millions of people around the world.

“What we like to do is give each platform a chance to speak to its audience and do unique things,” Keighley explained. “There are different conversations happening on each platform, but they’re also their own communities. The Twitch audience will have their own experience and Twitter will be a different audience.”

Schick Hydrobot at The Game Awards 2016. (Photo by Scott Kirkland/PictureGroup)

In addition to their Facebook-and-Twitter Messenger bot rollout this year, there’s interactive live voting on Xbox Live; Twitch emphasizes its chat features, and last year’s YouTube broadcast was in 4K resolution. The Game Awards aims to showcase each platform in the best light and strengthen their communities. Keighley also noted that there may also be some crossover. It’s not unheard of for viewers to watch on YouTube while engaging on Twitter, even though it can be watched natively on the social platform. Users are allowed to engage however they choose to, and the show is always looking for ways to be more interactive.

The Game Awards debuted for the first time on VR platforms last year in partnership with NextVR, where 360-degree cameras were placed throughout the theater for an immersive viewing experience. Although Keighley said it was an interesting experiment, he admitted that it was too much to expect people to wear headsets for two hours.

“It’s just a new way to experience the show, and we’re all about finding new ways to present the show to viewers,” said Keighley.

VR will remain an integral part of the experience, and the show is exploring ways to better leverage the platform. It’s also contemplating more traditional channels. TV networks have approached Keighley about televising the show, and even though he’s open to the conversations, he remains committed to keeping the show digital because of its niche-programming power and accessibility.

“We think that we’ve evolved beyond television with this show,” said Keighley. “Digital is where the audience is . . . I feel that we have to stay focused on a digital-only approach to distribution because that’s the future.”

Having the show locked behind a paywall or restricting it to TV runs counter to the show’s goals, and Keighley said that it may be one of the reasons shows like the MTV Video Music Awards are experiencing declining viewership.

“The general idea is to let users interact and let them feel like they’re part the show by gamifying it.”— Geoff Keighley, executive producer and host of The Game Awards

A new wrinkle may be that the future of digital distribution may be within the games itself since titles like Call of Duty already have in-game broadcast viewing capabilities normally reserved for esports tournaments.

“The idea of either broadcasting the show in-game—or at least linking out to the show from the game—is a big opportunity. That’s the next platform to conquer—giving the show live to players as they play a game.”

Integrating Non-Endemic Brands

In addition to interactivity, the show is also looking to bring balance between presenting awards and providing first looks at games. The main challenge is presenting forward-looking content without them like advertisements, Keighley said. Companies that do it well will create scenes that feel like it’s from a blockbuster movie instead of a highly produced game trailer.

The show is also working on integrating more non-endemic sponsors in meaningful ways, which is complicated because the digital show doesn’t have commercial breaks. Keighley said the show has worked with sponsors over the years, including Verizon, Bud Light, HP and Intel, and more brands are looking to engage with the gaming audience. But last year, some viewers thought that certain segments were overbranded or too promotional.

“That’s something that we certainly listen to, and I think the brands that we’ve been involved with are also listening to that and are figuring out the best ways to be a part of the show,” said Keighley. “What we’re working on this year is how they can add value and meaningfully contribute to the gaming industry to create opportunities that are unique inside The Game Awards so that they’re giving back to the game community.”

He cited HP’s sponsorship of the esports awards as a prime example of doing things right. He stated that as a brand, HP was celebrating the best gamers in the world while promoting its gaming PCs.

“It’s really important to know that anyone who wants to play in the gaming world needs to take the time to understand the audience, the games they’re playing and the opportunities that exist in both the games and The Game Awards,” Keighley said. “It’s not an easy thing to do, but the brands that put the time will definitely see a payoff. The bar is very high for what gamers expect out of the show. When a brand comes in and it doesn’t feel like they’ve put the time in to do something special for this audience, gamers will rightfully push back.”

Solving The Discovery Problem On Amazon Echo And Other Voice Platforms

Mike Macadaan, Ground Control CEO

Amazon and Google are turning up the competition in the voice assistant and smart speaker race, with both tech giants launching new devices and accessories for their respective platforms this fall.

But while Google is hitting movie theaters to promote its home products and Apple is just getting started with the HomePod, Amazon controls the majority of the market share with its Echo devices—which range from the simple Echo Dot to the video-enabled Echo Show.

But like the early days of smartphones and the internet, there are some growing pains involved, specifically with skill (app) discovery and retention.

“The discovery around these voice skills is pretty depressing—people don’t know where to find them,” Mike Macadaan, CEO of Ground Control, a start-up focused on developing skills for the voice technology space, told AListDaily. “Once they do find them, the commitment level is really bad. Less than 3 percent of people come back into a skill or game once they’ve activated it on their Echo devices.”

Gartner predicts that 75 percent of all homes will have voice devices by 2020, and that estimate doesn’t account for how voice assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa may be integrated into third-party devices like smartphones, headphones and TVs.

It’s clear that voice platforms may become areas that marketers should consider for additional touchpoints. But despite having conglomerates behind them, voice platforms are still in their early stages, with Amazon still figuring out what users want from their Echo experiences.

Echo users are mainly sticking to passive experiences such as checking the news and weather in the morning and perhaps listening to music throughout the day—very few are enabling interactive skills.

As Amazon launches the new generation of Echo devices alongside accessories such as Echo Buttons to further interaction with games, Ground Control is developing content to take advantage of it all. To address the problem of discovery, Ground Control partnered with the Creative Arts Agency (CAA) to connect with celebrities and politicians who are interested in helping to pioneer experiences for voice platforms. The company is leveraging personalities including comedian Mike Epps, NBA star Karl-Anthony Towns and former US vice president Joe Biden to attract audiences and get them engaged with its skills.

Macadaan says that, not surprisingly, the most popular types of experiences for voice-activated systems are trivia games or choose-your-own-adventure-type stories. On the first day of the MLB postseason in October, the company launched Full Count Baseball Trivia featuring San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey as the color commentator. That was preceded the month before by Biden’s Briefing, an interactive podcast that collects news stories curated by Biden. Later, Ground Control intends to release Buzzer Beater Basketball Trivia with Towns and Sounds Fun with Epps.

“A lot of people assume that we’re partnering with celebrities so that we can get customer acquisition and big marketing,” said Macadaan. “All of that is totally true, but the really interesting thing is that Echoes have the Alexa voice, which can be cold and robotic. When you [replace it with] a celebrity to personify their voice into one of these devices, they evoke different types of reactions and emotions.”

Macadaan believes that these engaging voices may open a new field of experiences, where users may feel like they’re conversing directly with their favorite stars or have them host family game night. Ground Control’s trivia skills will also take advantage of Echo Buttons for multiplayer, which Macadaan believes will be a major disruption for traditional board games.

But there might be a long road ahead. Macadaan said that the discovery problem isn’t limited to users figuring out what skills they want—it’s that many don’t even know what a skill is or realize the full potential of their Echo devices.

“Google and Amazon are getting these devices into people’s homes, but that doesn’t mean they’re using them in ways that you might imagine,” said Macadaan. “The problem with discovery also brings the problem with retention.”

Platforms need to figure out the audio marketplace, which Macadaan says is a fragmented combination of website, app and voice experiences right now. Until then, developers need to get creative. For example, since Biden’s Briefing features content from numerous sources, Ground Control is working with these publishers to cross-promote how Biden selected their stories. More radical ideas include having Towns say, “Alexa, enable Buzzer Beater Trivia,” at an arena while viewers and attendees have the voice function active on the Amazon app.

But ultimately, the promotion may simply come back to mobile apps. Ground Control is considering the development of a smartphone app to accompany its skills, as Amazon currently does not allow developers to promote their other skills from within the experiences. Instead, the Echo platform automatically recommends similar games.

Although Macadaan admitted that the voice gaming space is still niche, he believes that the tech will eventually become ubiquitous, with Alexa integrated across devices like cars and mobile phones. And for better or worse, audiences are already learning the nuances of machine interaction through automated customer service lines.

In the meantime, Hollywood studios are already experimenting with the voice platform as an additional touchpoint for movies such as Dunkirk and Spider-Man: Homecoming, with experiences that provide more background on the movies and their stars.

It will take time before monetization of voice skills is figured out, Macadaan said, pointing out how most branded skills are being optimized for Amazon services such as music, TV shows, movies and purchasable goods.

Macadaan believes that brands should look to build narrative experiences for the platform that will grow or change throughout the year. It’s still too early for sophisticated experiences, so it’s also important for brands to keep things simple. For example, he’s working on a skill that recommends travel destinations, and what users need to pack for these adventures, to promote a luggage brand.