The incredible growth of video gaming has been well reported. Console and PC games like Fortnite, Call of Duty, Roblox, Minecraft, League of Legends, FIFA, NBA 2K and Grand Theft Auto are played by 5 to 50 million gamers every day in the U.S. for an average of two hours per day.
For sure, video gaming has become the video entertainment of choice for enormous swaths of U.S. consumers, particularly those under 45.
With that in mind, I’ve been wondering how video gaming today measures up to TV viewing, so I decided to do some digging. I analyzed viewing data from several million connected TVs in the U.S. from Nielsen’s Gracenote panel that was modeled and balanced to U.S. Census data and Nielsen’s All-Minute Respondent Level Data, and matched to gaming data in a privacy-safe clean room.
I focused on a single, mid-tier multiplayer “battle royale” game, Smite (published by Hi-Rez, a Tencent studio) and ran the numbers to see how it would match up in audience size and composition to TV networks as well as ad-supported streaming services.
For comparison purposes, Smite is probably the 18th largest game in the battle royale category in the U.S., much smaller than games like Fortnite and Apex Legends. Here’s what I learned:
Smite would be a big TV network. Measuring Smite on a persons 2 and older basis, its weekly U.S. gaming audience would rank as number 45 out of 185 measured national broadcast and cable networks, one slot behind VH1. Measuring it on an adult 18-49 basis, Smite would be number 21, just ahead of A&E. And, incredibly, measuring Smite on a male 18-34 basis (85% of Smites’ gamers are men 18-34), it would rank as the 11th largest TV network in the U.S., just behind USA Network and ahead of TBS.
It’s big compared to ad-supported streamers. This stat relative to streaming viewing really jumps out: Smite’s weekly gaming audience is 2.7 times bigger than all people who have watched any episode of “The Handmaid's Tale” on Hulu this entire year.
Gamers don’t watch much TV, linear or streaming. A full one-third of Smite’s gaming audience have watched zero linear TV or streaming video on TV yet this year, and those watching any linear and streaming are mostly in the lowest quintile in total viewing for those channels.
And, guess what? Smite carries CTV ads. In case you were wondering if this was entirely an academic exercise exploring the potential advertising reach a video game could deliver if it carried TV-like ads, it’s not. I chose Smite for a reason. It is a pioneer among premium console and PC games and implemented gamer-friendly, opt-in, skippable and rewarded full-screen CTV ads into its game earlier this year. It is already delivering millions of ads a week with tight frequency controls and hourly ad loads in the two to three minute per hour range, similar to what HBO Max’s ad-supported service is launching with.
CTV ads on PC and console-driven video games will be massive. Smite is only the 18th biggest game in its category, yet it delivers more men between the ages of 18 and 34 every week than all but 10 TV networks today.
More top video games are beginning to test similar opt-in and rewarded ad formats, including games like EA’s NHL 21, and many of the games that will be coming online over the next year will be much larger than Smite. It doesn’t take much imagination to realize that a dozen or more of those games will very soon surpass both linear and ad-supported streaming services in the ability to deliver younger audiences, particularly younger men.
What do you think? Are video games ready to step onto the TV & CTV advertising mainstage?