CTV vs. Preloads

Jun 1, 2023

The key channel for mobile game UA is putting video ads in smartphone apps, normally done through Meta, Google, and the SDK ad networks. This is bread and butter stuff, both for UA managers and for the ad networks themselves - the easiest way to achieve solid results.
But Applovin’s Q1 shareholder letter, published on 10th May, indicates a move into new channels.

"Our team is focused on three key growth initiatives within our Software Platform segment: 1) upgrading our core machine learning AXON technology; 2) expanding our ad solutions into Connected-TV; and 3) extending our marketing platform to carriers and OEMs."

Letters like this one are written for Wall Street - and don't necessarily reflect strategic priorities within Applovin. But points 2 and 3 make for an interesting comparison. CTV is the teenage sex of mobile UA - “everyone talks about it, nobody really knows how to do it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they are doing it too”. Applovin’s push into the space, kicked off by their $430m acquisition of Wurl in April 2022, is now really heating up.

But almost nobody is talking about Applovin Array, the new initiative that Applovin is building to compete with Digital Turbine’s preload offering and ironSource Aura.
These two approaches seem like opposite ends of a spectrum.

  • CTV creates brand awareness and consideration, with only a tenuous link, via view-through attribution, to actual installs.

  • Preloads get apps onto devices without users even realising - skipping any conscious thought.

And this spectrum matters for marketers because different apps belong at different ends.

Take, for instance, SEGA’s recent acquisition of Rovio. IP is really important to both these companies - Sonic and Angry Birds are instantly-recognisable parts of pop culture. Consumers are aware of these brands, and hence search out the related apps. CTV has great potential for these IP-heavy games.

Studios like MobilityWare and PlaySimple are at the other end of the IP/awareness spectrum. Despite being top global publishers, most people won’t have heard of them - even if they’ve played their hit card and word puzzles!CTV is less likely to work well for a solitaire game, because there’s no IP to promote and it’s hard to differentiate your game from the rest of the market.

But preloads could be a great option for these studios - consumers will assume that these low-IP games just come with the operating system, like Hearts and Minesweeper on Windows. High-IP games which stand out from the crowd might not be so smoothly accepted by consumers.

There are a few exceptions that prove the rule - studios who manage to combine recognisable IP with an unobtrusive mass appeal that lends itself to preloads. King’s Candy Crush is the best example of this approach, seeing success on both channels - but their success is going to be hard for others to replicate.

As all these studios demonstrate, massive success is possible both with and without a recognisable IP - but UA channels should be chosen that complement the specific character of each game.