As president of IGN Entertainment since late 2009, Roy Bahat has made it his mission to transform gaming into a treasured American pastime on par with any pro sport. At Online Media Daily's request, Bahat pressed pause on his busy schedule to talk strategy, and explain how he's turning a top Web resource for guys into a cultural change agent.
Online Media Daily: While it's safe to call gaming mainstream, research from IGN and Ipsos recently found that few consumers identify themselves as gamers. How does this image problem affect IGN and its ad partners?
Roy Bahat: When everyone plays games, nobody has to label themselves a "gamer." Same way we all watch movies but don't call ourselves "moviegoers." As gaming becomes an activity anyone can enjoy, the word "gamer" will be obsolete.
Online Media Daily: Conversely, how have you and your ad partners learned to navigate the high demands of hardcore gamers?
Roy Bahat: This is an elite breed. They devour facts about games. There is almost no level of depth about important game franchises that will satisfy them. They love to chatter about games, and they need a venue for that chatter -- that's us. They need to be first to know. This type of person is the "alpha influencer" who tells his friends which games will be great. He tends to be expert in other areas -- general entertainment, personal electronics, and others. Which is why this audience is such a natural fit for advertisers.
Online Media Daily: Will we see a gamer achieve Michael Jordan-like fame, and what is IGN doing to hasten that day?
Roy Bahat: We better! IGN believes that if you are phenomenal at games, you should be famous. In other countries, a professional at games is festooned with sponsorship logos, ushered past the red velvet rope, and earns the riches he deserves. We are experimenting with a game league, highlighting the successes of the best, and trying to create a culture that celebrates greatness in gaming.
Online Media Daily: You hold up sports coverage as the ideal model for IGN to emulate. How would you describe such a media philosophy, and its potential for the video gaming industry?
Roy Bahat: Sports were once enjoyed by a small audience -- sports media took an activity that only a small number of people could directly enjoy, and they created drama around it. They created personalities. They made it so everyone could relate. And they accelerated the emergence of a multibillion-dollar industry -- bringing along virtually every major marketer in the process. Games could follow exactly the same script.
Online Media Daily: Do you actually believe that YouTube has more latent marketing potential than Facebook?
Roy Bahat: It could. Video is an extraordinary medium: it engages the eye and mind, conveys information and emotion, is adored by advertisers. YouTube in particular is all about consuming media -- not to mention that it is the second-biggest search engine. And it is an environment that content creators can already use, today, to serve audiences and advertisers. IGN more than doubled this year on YouTube -- and we're only beginning to discover how powerful it can be. If Facebook became a place to consume media, which a content creator could make money from, it would be all the more powerful.
Online Media Daily: Is IGN ready for a big branded entertainment push?
Roy Bahat: We're more than ready for branded entertainment. We create a wide variety of video and, as long as it's authentic, our audience is eager to consume. Our last quarter was up 30% over last year. We're seeing strong numbers in every category -- telecommunications, automotive, and packaged goods.
Online Media Daily: How does AskMen fit into IGN's ecosystem?
Roy Bahat: AskMen is an integral part of our offering to marketers -- and an important audience service in its own right. Marketers want to sound more than one note in their outreach to a male audience -- so while we are anchored in games, AskMen gives us range to connect a marketer to mens' lifestyle content. AskMen helps men be better men -- a need that resonates with advertisers and audiences.
Online Media Daily: Why isn't IGN moving more aggressively into ecommerce?
Roy Bahat: We think we are -- we just partnered with GameStop (the No. 1 games retailer) to combine our online media and online retail offerings. We're creating a new user experience and advertising offering for a video gamer from start to finish (first finding out about a game, through to purchase). As far as we know, no one has done this at this scale in any category -- it's definitely a first in the video games space.
Online Media Daily: How do female consumers factor into IGN's long-term marketing strategy?
Roy Bahat: More and more women are playing games today, and if you play games, you're important to IGN. While men 18-34 are our primary target, we're starting to create content around games that appeal more to women -- mobile and social games. Our female editors also created an all-female podcast (IGN Girlfight), which has become popular. Fun tidbit: according to a study we did, women 18-24 were the most likely demographic group to play games in their underwear.
Online Media Daily: Why was it important for IGN to get behind comScore's "Total Universe" audience tracking initiative?
Roy Bahat: Until now, online audiences were measured in separate Web and mobile categories -- but we think that doesn't reflect the reality of how content is consumed. Mobile on IGN is up 50% compared to last year. There is one digital audience, and it doesn't distinguish much between Web and mobile. So we needed 'one number to rule them all' -- a total universe advertisers could use to select their partners.