What is Twitch

You’ve probably heard about Twitch, but what’s allowed it to become more popular than network TV?
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As I’m writing this, roughly 2.5 million concurrent viewers are watching Twitch, which when a Presidential Debate isn’t on, is better than CNN, E!, and MSNBC…combined.

But unless you’re familiar with the gaming landscape—be it directly with your own viewing habits or indirectly from your kids—it’s unlikely you’re terrible well-versed in what Twitch is, exactly.

I produced and created Twitch’s first original talk show back in 2015. After the streaming service had made something of a name for itself but before it became a true, global powerhouse and was raffled off to Amazon for a billion dollars.

Here is what has made Twitch so popular, briefly how it began, and what has allowed some people to make a lot of money off of it.

This is what makes Twitch so unique…in 5 minutes.

How does it work?

Still screenshot from Justin.TV via LaughingSquid circa 2007.

For those of you cool enough to remember America Online, or AOL, you may or may not remember one of the more popular features of the program when it first began:

Chat rooms.

Twitch is a more dynamic (and moderated) version of the chat rooms that gave rise to much of the net. It is mainly broken down into two participants: the broadcaster (the creator making the content for the channel) and the viewer:

  1. The broadcaster is given a dedicated channel or live stream, accessed by a URL (e.g. twitch.tv/username)
  2. This channel has its own chat room, controlled by the broadcaster and other moderators it can assign at their own will
  3. The broadcaster streams themselves playing video games, spinning music, or just talking directly into a webcam or a feed connected into their computer system
  4. Users on their own computers around the world tune into that broadcasters specific feed a.k.a. the URL mentioned above
  5. Users participate with the channel by typing messages into the chat or just watching the broadcaster.
  6. Only the broadcaster can speak
  7. Only the broadcaster can control the video feed

Quick History

Twitch originated as Justin.TV in 2007. Justin, one of the original founders attached a webcam to his head and began broadcasting.

Ergo…Justin TV.

Is Twitch popular?

Very much yes…and sort of no.

If everyone says it’s so popular, why haven’t I heard of it?

I’ve always felt Twitch is a bit like NASCAR—the sport has tons of fans but they may not be the kind of people within your circle.

Twitch is in essence a more dynamic (and better regulated) version of the chat rooms that arguably gave rise to much of the internet.

There is a reason for that. While Twitch remains incredibly popular, it’s worth noting much of its traffic is outside of the United States. Almost 75% of Twitch desktop traffic is international.

Also, Twitch is most popular with younger audiences—41% of its viewers are age 16 to 24. So unless you’re kicking it with the cool kids, or are one of the cool kids (young kids are cool, right?) you might be a bit outside of Twitch’s bubble.

How people become popular on Twitch

Hosting our video game talk sho on Twitch in 2017. Believe it or not, this was the first talk show on Twitch — here we are breaking the news of the new H1Z1 game.

Once you understand Twitch, the next progression is realizing how people become popular broadcasting or streaming on the platform.

I never rose to fame on Twitch, but I worked with plenty of people who did. From my observations, there is no secret sauce to growing a following on Twitch. But based on the people I tracked, they for the most part had many of these qualities that allowed them to become popular on Twitch:

  • They seemingly never stopped broadcasting
    • Playing as much as you can for as long as possible is probably way to start growing a following on Twitch. You can’t grow a following if you aren’t broadcasting, so it makes conceivable sense that the more you broadcast, the more exposure you can create for your channel.
  • Production quality is top-notch
    • Prior to broadcasting, it’s worth considering the investment needed to grow a following. I’d budget $2,500-$3,500 in expenses OUTSIDE of your actual gaming setup:
      • Broadcasting in 4K is a must. This is both the camera facing you and the capture card recording your gameplay.
      • Likely having a setup that implies professionalism, either through a studio or some type of detailed setting and well-lit environment.
      • High-quality microphones
      • A capture card that allows you to broadcast in 60fps.
  • They play the most popular games (before they come out) or find a niche game (before it becomes popular)
  • Many of them are controversial or have a schtick
    • Not that I’d promote controversy, but the internet is what it is—people respond to those who are edgy, and while there’s a line to cross, having a strong point of view as a gaming personality usually isn’t a bad thing so long as it’s reasonably supported.

If none of the above: they’re really good at a certain genre of video game. If you possess a level of skill that no one has or can elevate another person’s gaming experience based on your knowledge, people will continue to tune into your stream.

How people make money broadcasting

  1. Make 50/50 split on subscribers (4.99)
  2. Sell video games for 5% share
  3. Sponsorship

Is Twitch free?

Anyone can watch twitch video streams free of charge. Individuals can also subscribe to specific broadcasters to avoid things like ads and to enjoy exclusive content.

Amazon Prime members receive a free Twitch Prime subscription, now called “Prime Gaming. Prime Gaming allows you to get free loot for popular games and subscribe to one streamer per month for free ($4.99 value).

Who owns Twitch?

Twitch was initially rumored to be purchased by YouTube in 2015. But that deal (however far the deal progressed) gave way to an Amazon purchase a few weeks later.

Amazon paid a hair under $1 billion for Twitch. Some market estimates now value Twitch at $15 billion. While it’s unclear to quantify the resources Amazon has put into the platform to increase that number, it’s safe to say the investment has paid off to date.

Is Twitch just for gaming?

Not anymore. Talk shows, DJ sets, random chat sessions are arguably as popular as a let’s play of a new release.

2mm viewers tuning in as I’m writing this. About 5% of those people are streaming, so by and large, 95% of people on Twitch are viewing and not broadcasting content.

Final Minute

I was fortunate to be one of the first content creators to enjoy the capabilities of Twitch as a live platform. It was the zoom call before zoom. And it is now the future of sports broadcasting and the envy of almost all video platforms.

Being a Twitch consumer isn’t imperative for those looking for a new form of entertainment. But for marketers, being at least somewhat familiar with Twitch is a must for building an online brand. You don’t need to broadcast or advertise on Twitch. But you should be able to deftly explain why you are not.

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