Teens prefer YouTube over Twitch for gaming despite the platform’s recent privacy challenges in the spotlight

A recent report said that teens prefer YouTube for gaming content — over other channels like Twitch. The findings come as YouTube has been put in the spotlight over child privacy protections and analytics and transparency issues over certain types of inventory.

Gen Z teens ranked YouTube as their favorite social platform followed by TikTok and then Facebook, Instagram and Snap, according to a report by Precise TV and Giraffe Insights, which examined video consumption habits, gaming and digital platform preferences. The companies surveyed 1,000 U.S. families that included teens aged 13 to 17 and their parents. Furthermore, the report found that gaming content on YouTube was found to be most effective at driving reach, ad recall and purchases.

While YouTube continues to attract a younger audience, Meta’s core demographic has aged on Facebook, said Andrew LaFond, ‪vp, executive director of media and connections at R/GA.

“It’s not surprising that YouTube drives so much reach among gamers, as it’s one of the biggest platforms that people forget about,” LaFond said. “Also, from a media buying perspective, YouTube has one of the stronger platforms, supporting full-funnel objectives and providing flexible creative options.”

YouTube in 2019 shut down its standalone gaming app, which launched in 2015 to compete with Twitch. The company planned to fold it back into the larger video platform. Additionally, its livestreaming and Shorts investments in recent years have helped it to stay competitive to TikTok and Instagram.

Gaming influences and consumption habits

YouTube is by far the No. 1 destination where nearly half of all teens are learning about new video games — compared to 39% hearing from friends and 32% learning through Facebook. Additionally, teens who watch other gamers are twice as likely to view them on YouTube (76%), versus 40% on Facebook and 34% on Twitch, according to the report.

Two-thirds of teens play video games at least once a week, and nearly half of male teens play daily, per Precise TV. The top games they play include major titles including Minecraft and Call of Duty, as well as Roblox and Fortnite. There’s a personality-driven side to the attraction as well, with Mr. Beast, PewDiePie, Dude Perfect and Jake Paul serving as the biggest gaming influencers for teens.

Katrina Stroh, vp of independent media agency Media+, is likewise not hugely surprised at YouTube’s gaming dominance — the platform does a good job of “blending TikTok, Twitch and Netflix,” she said. Additionally, Stroh noted that YouTube has become a search engine for video over text-based search results.

But Stroh doesn’t believe agencies should immediately prioritize YouTube over Twitch. “I think a media plan where both have a role would make most sense,” she added. “While YouTube provides a larger reach of teen gamers, Twitch has a much higher concentration of younger users compared to its overall user base.”

Data and monetization

From a media investment standpoint, Ting Zheng, client strategy director at PMG, said that YouTube offers a more streamlined way to monetize that is attracting gaming creators.

“Brands have always needed strong contextual alignment in order to activate on Twitch, whereas YouTube is a larger content ecosystem with more advertising opportunities for both brands and content creators looking to monetize their work,” Zheng said.

With YouTube, advertisers also have the advantage of leveraging Google’s data on users for targeting that is not available on other platforms. “Greater reach to teen gamers through YouTube over Twitch allows advertisers access to Google’s vast first-party data that is only made available as targeting — as well as used in AI and machine learning targeting optimization within Google’s ecosystem,” said Elmar Aga, vp of paid search at dentsu company MuteSix.

Ad recall and reach

The findings show YouTube drives twice the commercial reach among gamers compared to any other platform — and teens are twice as likely to remember seeing an ad for new video games on YouTube than on TikTok, according to Precise TV.

Six in 10 teens would consider watching YouTube ads rather than skipping, and 45% are likely to recall an ad there — compared to 28% on Facebook and 23% on TikTok.

YouTube may be favored because it is a platform popular with parents, added Paul DeJarnatt, vp, head of digital at Novus Media. This makes it a preferred place for gaming streams and videos in one place.

“YouTube is simply more widely available to teen gamers,” DeJarnatt said. “Parents understand it better and are generally more comfortable with it.”

Parents play a critical role in the engagement, because 60% are buying video games for their teens at least once a month, per the report. And with eight in 10 teens getting a monthly allowance (of an average of $45 per month), 37% said they spend on video games, followed by 36% on food and drink. PlayStation, Nike, McDonald’s and Adidas were some of the top brands they asked parents to buy.

Drawbacks and challenges

While YouTube may reach a wider audience, some say that platforms like Twitch actually offer a more niche and fine-tuned audience. As Freddy Dabaghi, managing director of delivery at Crispin Porter + Bogusky, explained, “Twitch is a lot more niche, and YouTube also promises a consistent ad experience versus online video via programmatic. However, where we’re seeing success on Twitch is when we can marry the creative and messaging to the gaming community and deeply understand the niche audiences within the platform.”

Twitch offers another way to leverage creators on the platform and invest in esports integrations and other display ads, which provide alternative media vehicles beyond the pre-roll and videos on YouTube, Dabaghi added.

When it comes to privacy protections, both platforms ultimately face the question of advertising to teens safely. While there are various content and advertising opportunities on both apps, some say that the industry will need to continue exploring the use of clean rooms to ensure compliance.

“This isn’t a new conversation for advertisers, but I think it is an opportunity for us as advertising industry professionals to restate its importance given the presence of teen gamers across these two platforms,” said Nick Miller, director of global media and agency services at consultancy Slalom.

With both YouTube and Twitch both owned by deep pocketed giants (the former by Google, the latter by Amazon), there should be no problem using these respective data clean rooms, Miller noted. “Reach of a platform only takes an advertiser so far,” he said. “It’s the ability to effectively target, activate, measure and optimize media buys that leads to successful media investments.”

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