“I need to do extensive reading on this complex subject before I give an educated opinion.” — Web comment that has never been made (courtesy of comedian Andy Borowitz)

This year, I’ve tried to determine whether there’s any fundamental, material difference between ad networks targeting video game content vs. video content.  Usually, debate among  media “thought leaders” boils down to a) “if I stand to make money from something, I am all for it,” and b) “if I stand to lose money from it, I am against it” — which, while a natural reaction for most, is why some gurus and experts are as beloved as Pol Pot.

What is content?

I’d like to state the obvious. I think everyone agrees that the content in video games is different from the content in a traditional video, so this isn’t some existential “what is content” debate.  Ultimately, the discussion and debate has to boil down the whether it’s better for advertisers when an ad network takes a video advertisement (a pre-roll, basically) and runs it in between video game stages, as opposed to serving that same ad to the same audience before a video loads.

The truth is that pre-rolls are generally ineffective and unwelcome.  I stand to get very wealthy or live in a fridge box based on whether or not consumers embrace pre-rolls — and let me tell you, I won’t shed a tear if pre-rolls disappear, but I also realize that the pre-roll is and will remain where the action is.

What’s the problem, again?

The problem is simply that most consumers are watching less-than-desirable videos, so the amount of pre-roll inventory available before super- and premium content that marketers want to associate with is, well, less than desirable.

This cascade effect has led some ad networks (and advertisers, too) to target in-video game content as an alternative place to run ads.  I don’t think anyone will challenge anyone to a duel when  advertisers does this, since it’s their money and prerogative.  The question is  whether an ad network can do this and claim that in-game video content is the same thing as video content.

Performance matters

It’s certainly true that as long as advertisers yield the same results, they may not care. Others would argue that a marketer may get a really high conversion on a neo-Nazi porn website that sells guns, alcohol and tobacco to underage orphans, but few marketers would be crazy enough to want to associate themselves with that website.  Granted, I’m kind of exaggerating to make a point — but I ask you, what volume of in-video game content comes from violent games, and what percentage comes from games where unicorns jump through rainbows in pristine fields?

All about audience?

While previously I sat on the sidelines on this topic, for reasons that I’m quite unclear about now, recently it hit me: Ad networks can’t have their cake and eat it, too. If they preach that audience trumps content, then they need to concede that the average audience watching in-game content is fundamentally different from the average audience watching videos in general.

While video games are increasingly mainstream , they will simply never be as mass market as the  general audience that videos are now reaching.

What I am NOT saying

You can dig up any report or survey that you want to convey just how mainstream video games are. Please don’t, as I am not arguing that video games aren’t mainstream – they are.  I also know that the video game industry is larger than Hollywood.

All I am saying is that general video content is far more mainstream than video game content, period, and that is what most big marketers want.  As a wise man once told me: “The myth of niche is just that, a myth.  Everyone buys cars, soap, and toilet paper.  That’s what drives advertising.”

Maybe, maybe not. That’s a different article.

Ultimately you can target anything you want and get away with it, but passing off one thing as another is not helpful to anyone in the industry.