Market Watch: Can the online gambling world learn from the success of premium online content platforms?

In late 2018 – which in retrospect, despite there being a fanatic in the White House, a robot in Downing Street and a forest fire in the Amazon, the world seemed a rather more stable place than today – a little unknown YouTube video company was privately sold.

Unknown that is, if you didn’t happen to have any screaming toddlers at the time. For this little company produced world-smashing cartoon masterpieces such as ‘Wheels on the Bus (go round and round)’, ‘Incy Wincy Spider’, and that timeless classic ‘b.i.n.g.o’ (incidentally if you needed to google that, then you seriously need to up your parenting game). All over the world, mums (and, cough, some dads) breathed sighs of relief as little eyeballs watched mesmerised hour after hour as these cute cartoon characters auto-cued over their pureed chicken and pea veloute.

Seventeen and a half billion little eyeballs to be precise, which is why LittleBabyBum, the brainchild content hub of two London-based parents, was the 10th largest channel on YouTube when it was sold to Moonbug.

This is the interesting part. How much did almost 20 billion eyeballs’ worth of content fetch back in 2018? A paltry $10m, or at least that’s what insiders claimed at the time. However, what was only revealed later was the outstanding bargain that Moonbug had landed with this acquisition, having just raised $145m and subsequently went on to acquire practically all other competing streaming content for the young market, culminating in the behemoth Cocomelon for an undisclosed amount in summer of last year. Having now amassed over 235 million monthly active users from at least five distinct acquisitions, it’s safe to say that not only is Moonbug the undisputed king of cartoon content, it is also now firmly in unicorn territory.

Why is all this relevant? Because never before in the history of media has streaming content been ever more relevant, and having compelling – and premium – content is a highly lucrative acquisition and retention tool. When Spotify acquired Locker Room (the sports fans audio platform) in April this year for an undisclosed amount, the main reason was to “offer a range of sports, music and cultural programming, as well as a host of interactive features that enable creators to connect with audiences in real time”. In investor speak – to acquire new users from new channels.

This is the bane of the premium content media market, specifically audio and video streams that are unique and lucrative to watch, yet hard and/or expensive to professionally curate. And given the way that other verticals have built their content temples (such as SoundCloud/Mixcloud for music, Edutopia/Coursera for education, TheStreet/Barron’s for finance, the list goes on…), it’s inevitably only a matter of time before content platforms are similarly reshaping the gaming industry. And in the near future, it is likely that they’ll each be bought up by their larger respective competitors or aspiring market-entrants.

So, given that this is a Market Watch column, here is the penny-dropping moment. Currently, how many dedicated and/or proprietary media content platforms exist in our industry? Quite a few industry publications (such as the very one you are reading) have a portion of their offerings as audio and/or video streams. But when bearing in mind that the keyword here is ‘dedicated’, the truth is that there isn’t yet a clear frontrunner. There are a few rising stars, such as the excellent Malta-based iGaming Next, which delivers C-level industry interviews and weekly digests, and the analytical East-coast Sports Gambling Podcast, which focuses more on the plays than the players, but in reality, there’s an ever-more growing demand on proper, dedicated industry teardowns and unbiased critical views of the state of the (gaming) nation.

You may actually believe that such timely relevant content already exists in the industry, but a quick set of test questions will quickly reveal that it doesn’t, at least not to the extent that other verticals have embraced it. To wit: where are the exclusive ask-me-anything video interviews with Evolution post the BTG acquisition? Where is an independent assessment of what’s happening with the recent Germany/MGA-based lowering of RTP? Who’s keeping tabs on the Tabcorp bid frenzy to see who emerges as the wagering king? And that’s just content from a given single week; let alone 52 episodes of that…

Short and snappy content

Consider also that there’s now an established TikTok-infused generation of professionals who aren’t (and will never be) interested in reading long-form content from any traditional portal. So, just like ‘in-depth’ articles can get delivered over just a dozen tweets, there similarly needs to be a medium that can deliver bite-size chunks of industry gossip as weekly soundbites. Take for example Earnings+More, that recent great mailshot initiative specifically created to deliver a concise doze of gaming news by email, daily. Think that, but delivered over an audio or video podcast…

There’s also another more pressing need for change. It’s unlikely that we’re going to return to 2019 levels of conference and exhibition hubris anytime soon. You may not think this is such a bad thing (unless your thing is sleeping in a rented bedsit a hundred miles from the expo), until it becomes evident that the majority of intel, and exclusive access to gaming industry trends does in fact currently come from conferences. What’s also becoming evident is the actual sheer impracticality of travelling to (and organising) large land-based events, and there’s increasing evidence to suggest that the seasoned professional is now less likely to travel to bloated, noisy large-scale events to get a sub-standard return on investment compared with the virtual thing. Niche-focused, in-person events, such as affiliate conferences, seem to be safe for now, that is until the (subsidised) costs of hosting such niche events outweigh the (exorbitant) ticket prices for limited-number attendees.

And even if virtual conferencing is here to stay, whilst we’ll begrudgingly ‘network’ around a Hopin or On24 for the occasional pseudo conference or two (don’t you just love those virtual foyers, such fun!), the truth is that it’s only a matter of time before we get virtual-meeting-fatigue – it’s an actual thing, look it up – which will inevitably be followed by a longer-term drop-off in attendance and engagement numbers, thereby decreasing revenue streams from these pseudo-events.

The solution? A weekly audio/video digest of what’s happening, with relevant industry-makers and shapers, there to be consumed at leisure anytime on your house/boat/bedsit without any obligations, or FOMO. The other industries have proven the value of premium content streaming, and emerging trends here in gaming also suggest you’ll soon be regularly tuning in to your own preferred channel of choice. Question is, which platform will it be, and more interestingly, how soon will it be before a NewsCorp or a Bloomberg buy it up?