How YouTube Plays Into Activision's Marketing

Game Maker Gears Up For Big Year With New Console Launches

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Dance videos posted to YouTube may get a lot of attention on "The Today Show," but gaming videos -- such as trailers, in-game walkthroughs and parodies -- are attracting an increasing share of play on the site.

Activision's Call of Duty Black Ops
Activision's Call of Duty Black Ops

"Gaming and video go hand in hand. We've seen in general over the last two years a huge explosion in video growth, and gamers are leading the way, especially across multiple screens," said Erica Larson, who leads the gaming ad-sales team as Google's head of industry-gaming.

Last year the amount of time people logged watching gaming videos on YouTube was more than double the amount of time spent watching other video on the site by U.S. viewers in 2012. With the fall releases of Sony's Playstation 4 and Microsoft's Xbox One gaming consoles, that growth will only accelerate in what should be the biggest year for gamers since 2006. That's the year Sony rolled out the Playstation 3 and Google acquired the then-year-old YouTube, and a year after Microsoft's Xbox 360 launched. A lot has changed in that seven-year span.

"We look to YouTube as almost one of the most important communication mediums we have," said Activision's VP-Digital Marketing Jonathan Anastas.

Activision's most-popular game franchise, the first-person shooter Call of Duty series, has pulled 1.48 million subscribers to its YouTube channel and more than a half-billion videos views of its professional content like trailers and behind-the-scenes clips. "Over the course of a year we publish 50 to 60 pieces of content on our own," Mr. Anastas said, adding that "a super large percent of our YouTube content is created for YouTube exclusively."

In a study of more than 170 gaming videos, Google found that publishers' videos, like demonstrations of game play, garner 50% of the views before a game's launch. Once the game is in the wild, user-generated content like how-to guides and reviews became the primary type of videos watched. Activision's YouTube strategy blends both. The company has worked with Robert Downey Jr. and YouTube star iJustine to create 90-second films, and Call of Duty features the option for players to live-stream their gaming to YouTube (a capability Electronic Arts pioneered back in 2008).

With a booming audience creating their own videos and YouTube networks like Machinima raising $35 million in funding (Google led the round) to produce more TV-quality series like Call of Duty-inspired The Clan, the bar has been raised on the type of content game publishers need to post.

Activision has created original content since 2011 exclusively for gamers who pay for Call of Duty's subscription service Elite, Mr. Anastas said, and has courted top YouTube creators to produce videos on the brand's behalf. The weekend before the E3 gaming conference commenced, Activision put on a live TV-and-web show to promote the upcoming Call of Duty: Ghosts game. "The entire audience was YouTube creators. We identified, flew in and gave assets to a number of key YouTube creators, and they were allowed to go make their own content with our assets leading right into E3," Mr. Anastas said.

But would the company look to create something on the level of the Steven Spielberg-produced original series for Xbox game "Halo" to be streamed on Microsoft's upcoming gaming console?

"If you look at our portfolio of franchises [including Call of Duty, kids' game Skylanders and the Halo-esque Destiny], you're going to start to see more originally generated content that isn't necessarily a game asset in the marketplace within the next six months," Mr. Anastas said. He declined to offer specifics, but acknowledged that the new content could see wider distribution than the Elite videos, including possibly streaming to YouTube.

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