For media companies, the Internet provides a virtually limitless audience to sell to advertisers. But many users simply ignore online ads, and others use ad-blocking software to keep the intrusive messages entirely out of sight.
Ader, a 2015 MassChallenge finalist, is looking to fix this shortcoming by connecting corporate sponsors with influential users of video-game streaming service Twitch. Think product placement on a TV show — where the box of cereal is positioned to reveal the brand name — but more precise, CEO and co-founder Justin Warden said.
“We are in a space where people play video games on a stream with other people watching,” Warden said. “People can play a video game that a company wants to promote, spending hours engaging with that video game.”
Compared to a traditional Web ad, Warden said, “it is far more in your face.”
One key milestone for the trend of video-game streaming, often called e-sports, was the 2013 world championship of the game League of Legends. Game publisher Riot Games says that event attracted a total of 32 million viewers, with a peak of more than 8.5 million people watching simultaneously. To put that in perspective, this year’s college football championship on ESPN averaged about 33.4 million viewers.
Last year, Amazon purchased Twitch for $970 million.
Some of the biggest players on Twitch already have sponsorships, but under the current system, gamers have to wait for companies to contact them. It also takes the companies too much time to identify a person who will be a good match for their product, said Warden, who is a junior at Amherst College.
Ader hopes to serve as the middleman, connecting video-game streamers with a gaming computer, mouse, or headset to promote during the broadcast. The startup aimes to provide potential sponsors with an expected return on investment, expected compensation, and size of viewership, among other metrics, making it easier for more gamers to make money while moving their thumbs.
“We currently have 30 influencers using the service,” University of Massachusetts-Amherst sophomore and co-founder Sahil Chaturvedi said. “They are being matched to each other for collaborations, and are committed to working with future sponsors.”
A similar service, Grapevine Logic, is available for YouTube personalities. Google’s own AdWords service, meanwhile, uses an algorithm to reveal advertisements to YouTube viewers who are thought to have the highest chance of acting on the advertisement.
Warden said he developed the idea behind Ader in 2014 and pitched his vision to the UMass-Amherst Entrepreneurship Club. He was eventually joined by Chaturvedi, Amherst junior Aiyanna Greene, and Boston University junior Jenny Li.
In the spring, the group typically worked out of Chaturvedi’s dorm room or a classroom at UMass-Amherst. Now, they are based at MassChallenge as they continue to form relationships with high-profile gamers and encourage companies to collaborate with specific gaming celebrities.
Ader has only relied on funding from friends and family for now, but Warden says the young company is in talks with potential sponsors for the service. While he wouldn’t disclose those companies’ names, Warden did say that American Airlines is paying for the startup to attend Twitch’s fall user conference.