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The World According to Twitch: Winning With Experimentation

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Trying to find the cord-cutters, cord-shavers and cord-nevers? Look no further than Twitch. Twitch doesn’t do a lot of programming; rather, it hosts video streaming from its UGC broadcasters and provides a range of monetization and production tools. Aside from Netflix, Twitch has the longest dwell time (the amount of time a viewer stays on a piece of content) in the industry— about 106 minutes per day.

Twitch is an interactive video gaming community where approximately 10 million daily users spend hours watching and interacting, but it’s also a public petri dish where developers experiment with what the future of media can be. Twitch viewers watch more content than HBO, Netflix, ESPN, and Hulu viewers combined according to a SuperData Research report (excerpts available).

SuperData says that gaming video content (GVC) is the most important new media trend since social media. Worldwide, about 665 million people engage with GVC, and for many of them it takes the place of primetime TV. Advertising and direct consumer spending are expected to bring in $4.6 billion in 2017. The current GVC profile is 54 percent male, 46 percent female, and has a $58K average income, according to SuperData (Twitch says its numbers skew even more heavily male— 72 percent). Last year, Twitch claimed just over 35 percent of the GVC market, with the remaining going to YouTube Gaming.

If You Build It, They Will Pay

While there’s a lot of debate about the sweet spot for over-the-top (OTT) subscription fees, Twitch has a fairly dynamic approach to getting viewers to pay for content. First, they give it all away for free. For those who want special access, which comes mostly in the form of greater ability to interact with the broadcasters, viewers can choose to support their favorite broadcasters by subscribing to their channels at one of three rates ($4.99, $9.99, and $24.99, depending on the broadcaster and level of interaction).

There are two levels of broadcasters: partners and affiliates. Partners have to be approved based on the amount of content they’ve produced and how many viewers they have reached, and they get some benefits that affiliates don’t. But anyone can become an affiliate, which allows them to monetize their streams through advertising, subscriptions, merchandising, Amazon.com product sales commissions, and direct donations from the audience.

Part of what makes viewing time so high on Twitch is the ability to interact with the broadcasters in a chat window on steroids. For the most popular streams, the chat window turns into a scrolling sea of characters and icons, the visual equivalent of the sounds you might hear at a live sporting event; for events with smaller audiences, viewers have more meaningful interaction. In addition to text, viewers use “emotes,” Twitch’s version of emojis, which show every possible mood a viewer might experience. Maybe it’s the relative anonymity of the internet that makes being able to reach out and interact immediately with strangers compelling. One thing is certain, viewers like interacting with each other.

What’s Next?

While the main focus of Twitch is broadcasting video gaming content, the company wanted to find what else would interest their incredibly captive audience. It surveyed its 22,000 top partner broadcasters and found programmatic broadcasting was a top favorite, followed by licensing content and then binge broadcasting back-to-back shows.

In 2015, Twitch kicked off its programmatic content with a marathon of the late TV painter Bob Ross’ show The Joy of Painting. “He would show how to paint a picture from start to finish and he talked to the viewers as if they were in the room with him. What we learned is that our audience really enjoyed programmatic TV where they could interact with each other while watching it,” says Twitch PR director Chase.

A recent 2-week screening of all 831 episodes of Power Rangers garnered 12.9 million views with a peak concurrent broadcast of 69,529 streams, according to the company. Twitch has broadcast a number of other programmatic series—Julia Child’s The French Chef, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, and Japanese anime from Crunchyroll.

“The Crunchyroll Marathon in August was a great way to bring together our respective communities, many of whom overlap,” says Joellen Ferrer, VP communications at Ellation, Crunchyroll’s parent company. “Through this collaboration, we were able to delight existing anime aficionados in a new and engaging way while also introducing new fans to our passionate Crunchyroll community.” Nineteen series were streamed 24/7 during the 5-day marathon.

Twitch is also a place where companies have come to run pilots or premieres. In April 2015, HBO brought Silicon Valley to promote season two on Twitch, with the actors playing games and interacting with Twitch viewers. It was the first time any TV network had broadcast a show on Twitch. Spring 2017 brought three pilots from Amazon Studios to Twitch, using real-time polling to measure interest. “It was part of an Amazon initiative to gauge viewer sentiment on whether they should launch another show,” says Chase. Most shows and marathons run worldwide, unless there are license exclusions.

In Real Life (IRL)

The second area of content that Twitch users wanted was reality programming. “We introduced a category called IRL which is our vlogging channel,” says Chase. The channel put streamers on camera talking about whatever they want. “It’s used for sharing thoughts and opinions in a one-to-many format,” says Michael Aragon, SVP of content, Twitch. “One type of IRL that has become very popular recently is travel vlogging.”

To support mobile broadcasting, Twitch released a live streaming tool within its new app. “Because our emerging content is primarily surfaced from the community, there is already a built-in audience for it,” says Aragon. “IRL in particular has been extremely popular because the category works in tandem with our mobile streaming app.”

A Tale of Three Streamers

Twitch has enabled a new generation of broadcasters, providing a platform for many thousands of streamers to create and monetize their passion. There are all sorts of streamers on Twitch, from the rock star players who gather thousands and thousands of viewers on each stream to big eSports competitions, game publisher channels, talk shows, and event coverage. Here’s a look at three current streamers.

Streamer One: Zac Eubank runs the community-driven channel HyperRPG. HyperRPG started in February 2016 and now broadcasts 60 hours of live content weekly. He says they have two studios, production managers, writers, actors, and game moderators, and reach up to 4,000 concurrent viewers for some shows. The shows have varying levels of audience engagement, allowing viewers to influence the content they’re watching. Hyper Drive, an all-day monthly variety event, includes a live sketch comedy show, and every Friday they broadcast an audience-directed Hunger Games-type show called Death from Above, where the audience can sway the show’s outcome by purchasing perks (such as enhanced skills) for whichever side they support, much like in a real video game. HyperRPG will soon broadcast the first licensed interactive role-playing game on Twitch.

How does Eubank fund his business? “It’s basically like a live Kickstarter. It’s 90 percent audience funded,” says Eubank. “Once a week, I get on camera and share our deepest secrets with the audience. It’s a very open business model. We tell the audience how much money we are making and how much it costs to run everything.” It ends up that most viewers are spending at least $5 a month to see Eubank’s programming, he says.

Streamer Two: Meet the 20-year-old SinfullyRiddling. She started streaming as her full-time job a year ago. “Marketing is something I’ve really come to enjoy. I love creating different content and experimenting to learn what works best,” she says. She tweets out when she goes live, and posts to all of her social media outlets in the hopes of driving people from those platforms to Twitch. In the future, she’s interested in broadcasting to the IRL category too. She says has about 700 subscribers and more than 40,000 followers, and she streams 5 nights a week for 4–6 hours each night, plus special-event streams.

Streamer Three: Tessachka has been streaming for 3.5 years. She says she streams 6 days a week, 6–8 hours daily, plus a few 8 to 12-hour days. “I spend almost twice the hours streaming and working on things for the stream that I used to spend at my previous full-time job, and make far less income, but I am infinitely happier,” she says. She says she does frequent give-aways to her fans, like gift cards that she pays for herself, and she’s also a member of the LenovoLegion stream team, which sponsors a monthly giveaway. Those products range from smaller peripherals to full computers. Since Twitch ended its previous broadcaster merchandise arrangement (more on that below), she’s trying to figure out how to produce T-shirts, hoodies, mugs, and phone cases for her viewers.

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A new feature enables the home screen to profile channels that each viewer follows. The challenge is getting viewers to find the streamer’s channel first. Eubank previously produced a show that Twitch profiled on its main page. “We were getting 600,000 video impressions per 3-hour time slot,” says Eubank. “Being that popular showed us that there is an audience for this kind of content.”

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