What publishers should do when Nielsen misrepresents their industry

When Nielsen released its recent esports report, gaming media company founder Ryan Cunningham noticed a problem. Here, he lays out exactly what Nielsen got wrong, and offers advice to his fellow publishers.

Last week, Nielsen published a report on Australian esports and unfortunately, it features a big mistake.

In the past few days my inbox has lit up with agency strategists and marketers questioning how Nielsen’s report contradicts the vast majority of reports on esports both locally and globally. So how are media publishers to respond when an established reporting group clearly gets it wrong without looking petty?

To be transparent, my company You Know Media directly works in esports, providing sponsorship options across eight of the top esport leagues in Australia. We also represent Curse, Gamer Network and GAMURS, which makes us the largest group of gaming and esports sites in Australia, so I unequivocally have a vested interest in this space and that should be stated upfront, so you understand my motivations.

But more importantly I’m passionate about esports and gaming having spent eight years helping grow it in this market, so when this report came out it was hard to swallow, but I’m equally aware that as a media publisher I’m sure my criticism looks marred with self-interest.

But should that stop me from bringing the right information forward? I’ve decided that it shouldn’t.

So, what happened?

Nielsen’s report is less a fabrication and more a misrepresentation of data and audience segments, but the intended purpose is clear and it’s also clearly misleading. This ultimately speaks to a surface understanding of esports rather than any malice, but the result is the same: marketers are getting the wrong picture of esports.

The key element in question is this stat:

The key terms of ambiguity are the use of “followed by esports fans”. How Nielsen gathered this info is almost irrelevant, as this data isn’t saying what it appears to be. (Although I would like to qualify their esports audience.)

This data appears to be saying these games are what esports fans are watching or tournaments they are attending, but that isn’t correct. We have no idea of what “follows” correlates towards, but it appears that they have blurred the lines between games gamers have played and the esports codes audiences are watching. Or maybe news they read (such as when a game will be released).

According to Nielsen’s global report, their numbers correlate more to what games esports fans have played, but the difference in gaming and esports are worlds apart, and this is the point that is misleading the industry.

Hence why Newszoo’s (the global leader in esports research) 2016 report showcased that 40% of esports audiences don’t actually play the top esports games (FIFA and COD didn’t make that list).

And every other data source in the market correlates to showcase this.

Last year Twitch, the #1 esports streaming platform in the world, showcased these figures on the top 10 games watched here in Australia. They are:

  1. League of Legends
  2. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds
  3. Dota 2
  4. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
  5. Hearthstone
  6. Overwatch
  7. World of Warcraft
  8. Runescape
  9. IRL (vlogging category)
  10. Warframe

Similarly in Newszoo’s report, they found almost identical results as Twitch regarding the most watched esports games in Australia.

Viewership on games doesn’t exactly correlate to esports viewership, but without exposing confidential information from our partners, the link is very close. It at least showcases clearly games watched and can be directly compared to what games actually have major tournaments and viewership.

To highlight this we can examine the data for prize pools and audience numbers for the biggest tournaments in the world, the clear winners are Dota 2, League of Legends, StarCraft 2 and Counter-Strike. The Dota 2 Internationals and League of Leagues Worlds boast audience viewership numbers of 70-90 million views. In comparison, COD maxed out at 1.6 million views and FIFA 2.2 million. It’s the reason there are over 10:1 more Dota 2 and LoL tournaments produced. Its what esports fans are actually watching.

But if those numbers don’t showcase the real winners clearly enough, then let’s look another aspect. The Nielsen report includes NBA 2K. However, the first esports league doesn’t even start until May 2018 (with qualifiers kicking off last January). So how does it appear in an esports report in March 2018?

Why does getting it right matter?

Right now marketers across Australia are making key decisions around how to engage with esports. It’s a complicated space and there are multiple players all claiming to be #1, the best or the largest. I know, because we are one of those groups. So it is vitally important that independent and respected groups like Nielsen get it right, so that marketers can make their own judgements based on numbers that represent what they appear to be.

If not, then its up to publishers to stand up, unite and showcase what is correct and work together to give a clear picture. This is what this piece is aiming to do and hopefully it comes across as transparently as it is meant.

Again I’m not without bias, we love our products, but we love the industry more and think decisions should be based on merits.

What is the point of this?

It isn’t to oppose Nielsen. Rather, it’s about working for the industry to help create clarity and understanding in emerging verticals. Its also our hope that groups like Nielsen will take the time to reach out to experts to gain understanding on the industry, the difference in metrics and their implications so they can produce more accurate reports and help us build esports in Australia.

Ryan Cunningham is the founder and CEO of You Know Media.


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