Activision Blizzard Courts Ad Dollars As It Builds Its E-Sports Empire

ActivisionActivision Blizzard, the gaming and interactive entertainment brand behind the “Call of Duty” franchise, and which acquired Major League Gaming (MLG.tv) for $46 million in January, is betting that e-sports will go mainstream.

Its media imprint, Activision Blizzard Media Networks, aims to build the “ESPN of e-sports,” spearheaded by former ESPN CEO Steve Bornstein.

On Thursday, Activision upgraded its e-sports broadcast network. It overhauled its over-the-top video platform – launching the MLG.tv Enhanced Viewing Experience – and deepened its video partnership with Facebook for live and on-demand e-sports content.

“We’ll be engaging with the ad world about what kinds of placements we can build into different user experiences,” Mike Sepso, SVP of Activision Blizzard Media Networks and the co-founder of Major League Gaming, told AdExchanger.

These formats, he said, would range from “very simple things we can borrow from the traditional sports world like scoreboard sponsorships to native units we create in part with our brand partners.”

MLG.tv distributes content across the web, mobile and OTT through Xbox, PS4, Roku and Chromecast; it also streams content directly into “Call of Duty: Black Ops III” through a live event viewer.

Its relationship with Facebook – MLG.tv’s newest distribution partner – will give Facebook audiences exclusively produced video. 

“We reach over 500 million monthly active users across our game franchises,” said Sepso. And unlike competitors like Amazon-owned Twitch and Turner-owned ELeague, MLG.tv is vertically integrated because Activision is itself a game publisher.

“We own the game, operate and run the leagues, work directly with teams and talent, produce content and position it on our platform and other distribution partners,” Sepso added.

“And while platforms like Snapchat are huge in terms of video views, they’re actually very new at determining what’s the ad product that will work. We’ve had an over-the-top ad platform for e-sports with MLG.tv for three years now.”

Many elements of MLG.tv’s ad stack are homegrown, though it built its private exchange using LiveRail prior to the Facebook acquisition.

mlgBecause its audience is elusive, at least for those advertisers seeking millennial male gamers on traditional channels, Activision claims “hundreds” of premium advertisers are buying its audiences programmatically at any given time.

Sepso said a huge priority is continuing to build out that tech stack with more data management capabilities to ensure a steady flow of information between its CMS and mobile, browser and OTT video player.

Part of the reason why it updated its platform with an enhanced viewing experience was for the analytics component – if a gamer picks up a particular weapon, a graphic may pop up below a video screen that says, “This player has a 63% chance of accomplishing a mission,” based on past and predictive data.

This, he claims, help improve the gamer experience and drives up engagement with ads.

Activision is courting what it calls “blue-chip” brands, pushing both an engaged millennial male audience base and strong completion rates for 30-second video ads that run between live, long-form content like traditional commercial breaks.

“We’re able to tap into ad budgets that are moving from television into programmatic digital video very quickly,” Sepso said. “On the direct sponsorship side, it’s mostly budgets that five years ago would have gone to television and live sports programming.

“It’s less experimental budget. If you’re a planner or buyer, it’s tough now to buy TV and expect to reach millennial males.”

 

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