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Video: Microsoft Seeks Elegant Ways to Match Esports Broadcasters to Their Audience
Microsoft's Andy Beach and Streaming Media's Tim Siglin discuss the latest strategic developments around live-streamed and VOD esports in this interview from Streaming Media West 2016.

Tim Siglin: Welcome back to Almost Live here at Streaming Media West 2016. I'm Tim Siglin, Contributing Editor with Streaming Media Magazine. Today I've got with me Andy Beach from Microsoft. Andy, what's your title at Microsoft these days?

Andy Beach: Tim, I am a Technical Evangelist in our Developer Experience Organization.

Tim Siglin: Okay. Is that actually what your card says, all those things?

Andy Beach: If I had cards, that is exactly what they would say.

Tim Siglin: So I think the last time we talked you'd come on full time at Microsoft. You'd been working with Microsoft Studios prior to that. Are you still doing work with Studios or has the focus shifted?

Andy Beach: I would say the focus has shifted. My focus these days, I still work with Media Partners, but I'm specifically working with the Esports Partners. I'm working guys like guys like Twitch, Major League Gaming, and Electronic Sports League.

Tim Siglin: When I looked into it esports early on I was just fascinated by how many viewers they have simultaneously for these tournaments. Are you working with them on how to best scale, or are you working with them on how to stream straight out of the Xbox? Like in-game streaming?

Andy Beach: So with Twitch I was part of a team that helped them enable streaming out of the Xbox directly. In previous times. The focus right now is really enhancing that experience. Since they can already do the streaming part, it's, "What can we do to better improve the experience."

Tim Siglin: What do you mean by better improve the experience?

Andy Beach: It tends to be things like making it more interactive, or making it more engaging, or finding new ways. A lot of the focus this year has been how can we use Azure to do something with it. Some of the examples of things that we've talked about include, "How do we automatically close caption or translate the close captions, because it is such an international audience? How do we use things like the Bot Framework and Machine Learning to better recommend the streams that they should be viewing?"

If we think that OTT has a discovery problem, Esports has a huge discovery problem, because you go from a couple of channels of things, or let's say a dozen apps out there, to ten thousand broadcasters. How do you find them when they're on? Finding ways to more elegantly match the broadcaster to the viewing audience is kind of one of the things that I'm looking at from a problem perspective.

Tim Siglin: Discoverability is obviously huge. Talk to me about bidirectional feedback, because obviously the whole premise is you watch a game on Twitch as you're hearing the conversation between the team members of the tournament. Would we be looking at things like ways to get feedback through polling, or something like that?

Andy Beach: Yeah. That's definitely something that some of the partners have looked at, and some of the ways that they're tackling it. Microsoft actually acquired a game broadcasting company called Beam over the summer. One of the things they were known for, and one of the things that Xbox is looking to take advantage of, is they actually allow the viewer to have an interactive experience with the broadcaster. You can actually change aspects of what the game is doing as the broadcaster is viewing it, enable certain things, force them down certain paths. That kind of thing. You truly have an impact there.

Tim Siglin: Almost like those books we used to get as a kid. Choose your own adventure type thing.

Andy Beach: Exactly.

Tim Siglin: In this case it would be crowdsource choosing. Let's just talk about that for a second, because I'm fascinated. Are we saying that you got 50,000 people voting, and if 50,001 vote for him to go down the left path verses the right path, it would force the game in that direction?

Andy Beach: Exactly.

Tim Siglin: It's the opposite of cheats. It's actually making the game harder for somebody to do.

Andy Beach: It's giving them that impact. There are ways outside of what Microsoft is doing that the partners are exploring, doing exactly that kind of thing. Twitch has been sort of at the forefront of finding ways to let the viewer do things like donate, or cheer the individuals along. Enabling that kind of stuff. Really, taking a look at what they've been doing and then looking at how we expand that into the console world. How we expand it into their experience across the mobile devices and the desktop while they're doing that. That's kind of been the focus of my area.

Tim Siglin: What percentages of people who watch are watching the “in-game stream,” vs. watching through an external platform?

Andy Beach: I don't know that I have good numbers on that. I know that in the Xbox world, when we talk about the ones that are viewing on the Xbox, the numbers are high, but they're actually typically viewing PC games. It's not necessarily Xbox games that they're watching. Things like DotA and League of Legends. Things you don't play on your Xbox. Those are actually some of the highest viewed. And they’re PC games. I'm assuming that that stays true when you move into the desktop realm as well.

Tim Siglin: People are watching the Xbox tournaments and that type of thing.

Andy Beach: The platform doesn't necessarily dictate what the interests are. The interests are categorical sort of. If you watch PC games, you're going to want to watch PC games.

Tim Siglin: Which means, ultimately, you as the broadcaster can't plan for, "I can get away with a certain number of in-game views. Which take a lot less streaming because of the fact that this is essentially just re-rendering the pixels the way they are, verses somebody who wants to watch it in a more traditional H.264 stream.

Andy Beach: Right, and you know, a lot of these streams are now also captured as a VOD asset. A lot of these guys, when they broadcast it's their job. They broadcast typically somewhere from three to five times a week, for 2-6 hours at a go.

Tim Siglin: You listen to it and it is completely raw. Somebody walks in with a pizza delivery. They're like, "Oh, the pizza's here." Then you hear, "Munch, munch, munch."

Andy Beach: They're constantly talking back and forth with the audience. They have a chatroom, and they're interacting with those guys and doing stuff. All of that asset is there, and the VOD stuff gets looked at just as much as the live stuff does.

Tim Siglin: It's interesting because Twitch came out of the whole lifecasting thing, where there had begun to be that interaction with the audience during live. Now it makes more sense to me as to why Twitch grew out of that, because of that interactivity.

Andy Beach: They've kind of come back into it through their creative. They've opened up a whole area now. They have a whole section on Twitch called Creatives, and that's for people who aren't gamers but still want to broadcast. It's typically things like writers who are writing, programmers who are coding, painters who are painting, or illustrators who are illustrating. If you're doing something creative, even people in the kitchen cooking. If you're doing something creative you can turn on a camera, broadcast yourself while you're doing that thing. Then you can interact with the audience that's talking to that. They're starting to get a real attraction there.

Tim Siglin: I can see the practical example of that where you call your mother up and say, "Now, what was it that you put in that recipe that I need?" Where they could be watching you dice the stuff and somebody says, "Oh, you know. You need to add some garlic to that to make it taste better."

Andy Beach: I have a friend who is vegetarian and vegan. I don't do a lot of vegan cooking, but there are a lot of vegan broadcasters. It's actually a good way to go find recipes and the process for doing the things. There are parts of it that are interesting. Then I've found myself just getting caught up in watching an artist or an illustrator working.

Tim Siglin: "The Joy of Painting." What Bob did years ago is now ...

Andy Beach: They actually reran "The Joy of Painting" on it sort of at the kick off, and it was hugely successful. Yeah, you get yourself sort of just caught up in that, like watching the process of something they created, it's fascinating.

Tim Siglin: Nice. All right. Andy, as always, we appreciate you stopping by and giving us your insights. This is Almost Live at Stream Media West 2016, with Andy Beach from Microsoft.

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