Crossing the Streams: Twitch Brand Review
If you are under age 35 (or have children aged 10-18 years old), you have likely become intimately acquainted with the word Twitch.
Similar to Facebook and Youtube, Twitch is at the forefront of a new form of media.
Known as ‘streaming,’ it offers everyday people the chance to broadcast their life to the internet in real-time. For some of these people, known as ‘streamers,’ they are able to monetize and make a living from Twitch.
The vast majority of streamers spend their time broadcasting themselves playing video games and chatting with an audience via a chatroom. Other streamers choose other activities such as painting, cooking, podcasting, recording music, camping, reading, and more.
Each streamer builds up a following based on their unique style and what they choose to share on their channel. Currently, the platform boasts over 15 million active daily users.
Twitch in 2019 has some incredible usage and engagement statistics:
- 3.8 million monthly broadcasters, and 15 million daily Twitch viewers on average
- Average of 50,200 concurrent broadcasters, and 1.2 million concurrent viewers
- 560 billion minutes of Twitch viewed over 2018, which is a 58% increase from 2017
- 81.5% of Twitch userbase is male, 55% of viewers are aged 18-34
- Twitch’s estimated annual revenue is $3.4 Billion and employs 4500 people
To the uninitiated, this might seem incredibly boring, but to those who tune-in, it becomes a huge part of their daily lives.
The average viewer on Twitch spends up to 1.5 hours a day on the platform. Some spend as much as 5-8 hours a day viewing and chatting on the platform.
For those who run businesses that offer products or services to the Twitch demographic, there are ample sponsorship and advertising opportunities available.
The Early History Of Streaming
The growth of the internet in the mid-90s led many everyday people to share their lives online. Due to the limits of early internet technology, most people shared their lives through blogging or low definition video. With the creation of Youtube in 2005, the world suddenly had the ability to share themselves through video uploads.
As social media usage and sharing became part of everyday life, new ways to share everyday life with the world began to emerge.
The First LifeCaster
In early 2007, a young entrepreneur named Justin Kan decided to continuously broadcast his life to the world via video feed. Launched on March 19, 2007, Justin.tv was a very early attempt to broadcast a person’s life directly to the internet. Kan attached a camera to his baseball cap and broadcast his view of everyday life. This innovation became known as ‘lifecasting.’
The novelty of the Kan’s live streaming concept attracted mainstream attention, and soon, other ‘lifecasters’ joined. In late 2007, the Justin.tv platform had expanded to allow others to share their own live video streams.
Soon more platforms such as Ustream, Livestream, and Stickam all offered the same ability as Justin.tv.
In 2008, Justin.tv added categories for broadcasters. The most popular included People & Lifecasting, Sports, Music & Radio, Gaming, News & Tech, Animals, Entertainment, and Divas & Dudes.
Home Grown Entertainment
One category of live streaming that seemed to be getting the most attention was gaming. Rather than playing the games themselves, viewers were enjoying watching other people play the game while chatting. The interaction between the streamer and their audience played a big part in how much popularity the new type of entertainment created.
In June 2011, Justin.tv renamed the video gaming category to Twitch.tv. Their blog post shared their new mission to support and keep growing the community of video game streaming.
“TwitchTV was created by gamers, for gamers, and our mission is to support the very highest quality video streams of the best players, announced by the best commentators.”
The new concept of live streaming video games caught on incredibly quickly. By 2014, Twitch streams had more traffic than HBO’s online service. Twitch was the fourth-largest source of Internet traffic during peak times in the United States, just behind Netflix, Google, and Apple.
The growing popularity of Twitch and video game streaming eventually led to the closure of Justin.tv so that the entire team could focus on its biggest opportunity.
The tremendous growth also piqued the interest of the investment community, and funding offers began to appear. By 2014, the company had received over $40 Million in seed funding.
In May 2014, Variety first reported that Google had reached a preliminary deal to acquire Twitch for approximately US$1 billion. This deal fell through, however, due to rumored antitrust issues, and in August 2014, Amazon acquired Twitch Interactive for US$970 million.
Making Money From Video Games
For almost two generations, video games had been derided by parents as a waste of time.
Yet, with the invention of live streaming, this was no longer true. The Twitch platform not only entertained its legion of viewers but financial incentives to those who were part of the show.
The original twitch announcement in 2011 shared their vision for supporting streamers on the platform:
“TwitchTV created an innovative partner program in which gamers and tournaments share in the advertising revenue generated on their video streams. TwitchTV is also beta-testing other revenue generators for its partners, including pay-per-view and subscription-based programs in which viewers gain access to exclusive content, or gain premium-level benefits such as ad-free viewing.”
This original plan soon became the foundation for the monetization of video game streaming. With the support of Amazon, the ability to subscribe to streamers using an Amazon Prime membership also became available.
How Twitch Streamers Make Money
The concept of making money while playing a video game can take some time to comprehend. But the core idea is simple: the more viewers a person has on their channel (the page on Twitch where their stream is broadcast), the more revenue potential.
1) Donations from Fans
The simplest form of support is a direct donation. As streamers offer entertainment for many hours at a time, their viewers often donate to show their appreciation. Cash donations are processed through PayPal or services like Streamlabs, which cater to multiple streaming platforms.
Depending upon the popularity of a streamer, the most popular streamers can make upwards of $1000 per day, while less popular streamers typically make $5-$50 per stream from direct donations.
2) Paid Subscriptions
The next level of support is a paid monthly subscription, paid either via cash or as part of Amazon’s Twitch Prime program. Similar to Patreon, a subscription offers a monthly payment to the streamer to help fund their expenses.
Initially, subscriptions cost $4.99 per month, with the revenue split 50/50 between the streamer and the Twitch company. In 2007 Twitch introduced a tiered subscription model allowing people to subscribe for $4.99 a month, $9.99 a month, and $24.99 a month. Each tier offers additional perks, such as access to unique emotes and status badges in chat. The revenue split remained the same for this new model; however, some streamers with larger followings can earn up to a 70% share of the subscription revenue.
In late 2016, Amazon introduced a new form of subscription called Twitch Prime. This service allows users with an Amazon Prime subscription to give one subscription a month to their favorite streamers. This promotion also incentives viewers with free ‘loot’ every month in the form of in-game upgrades and free games.
In 2017, Twitch created the ability to gift a channel subscription to a fellow viewer. The payment breakdown is the same for the streamer, but it allows dedicated fans another way to reward the streamer and include the stream followers who are not able to purchase a subscription.
3) Advertising Revenue
A more traditional form of advertising is pre-roll and mid-roll ads that streamers can choose to run on their channels. Most viewers are very familiar with this model from Youtube and accept that it helps streamers pay for their expenses.
Advertising revenue averages about $250 per 100 subscribers per month, making it very lucrative for those with millions of followers. Each Twitch streamer who achieves a partnership enters into a confidential agreement with Twitch regarding their actual ad revenue.
The final form of financial incentive for streamers is paid sponsorships during the stream. Perhaps the most famous example of sponsorship is Tyler’ Ninja’ Blevins, who has a paid agreement with Red Bull sports. During streams, Ninja has a small fridge in view of the camera stocked full of Red Bull drinks.
Through combined sponsorships and paid subscriptions, Blevins earned an estimated $10 Million in revenue. In August 2019, he decided to move his streaming channel over to Twitch competitor Mixer (owned by Microsoft).
While Ninja is an outlier, in 2019, many people make a full-time living streaming on Twitch.
Of the 2 million active broadcasters on the platform, there are approximately 27,000 partners. To apply for Twitch partner status, there are specific requirements a streamer must meet first:
- Must have streamed 25 hours within 30 days
- Must have streamed 12 unique days within 30 days
- Must have reached at least 75 viewers within 30 days
Some Twitch partners make enough to pay their monthly bills, and some make much more. Due to the confidentiality clauses that Twitch signs with streamers, it is hard to know the exact income levels of individual streamers.
The Move to Mainstream
Video gaming has always been represented as a pastime and attracts a subculture of committed players. As online gaming and esports have become a part of regular life, Twitch streaming has become a perfect partner.
Esports (competitive video gaming) has become an enormous draw both online and at public events. The world’s largest esports tournament, The International 9, had a top prize of $34.3 million for the champion team in 2019 and was watched by over one million viewers on Twitch.
[The International is the world’s most popular esports event, drawing over 1.1 million viewers on Twitch in 2019.]
Thanks to a massive surge in popularity over the past few years, the Twitch platform has worked its way into popular culture.
After becoming Twitch’s biggest streamer with over 11 million followers, Ninja had a chance to stream with Drake and appeared on The Ellen Show.
As the popularity of streamers and streaming has grown, the Twitch brand has expanded its focus. The inaugural Twitchcon was held in San Francisco in 2015 with 20,000 attendees. In 2019, over 50,000 streamers and their followers attended the conference.
Many of the more popular streamers will create their own community meetups, which at the Twitchcon event, and attendees fly in from around the world to meet their favorite streamers in person. This crossover from the online world to reality is a clear indication of the power of Twitch’s influence.
Widening The Reach
Aside from the gaming aspect of streaming, Twitch also offers a variety of other types of live-streamed content.
Some streamers choose to paint or draw, create and perform music, build, cook, garden, travel, or discuss topics with their audience. These categories of streams are today known as IRL (in real life) streams and are a growing area of interest.
What Justin Kan began with Justin.tv is seemingly returning in popularity. With the increased visibility of the Twitch platform, it seems that more and more people may start finding an audience through sharing their lives, or interests with the world.
Of course, the Twitch platform today is not the only player in the live streaming market. Microsoft acquired streaming platform Mixer (originally named Beam) in 2016 and has since integrated it into the XBOX and Microsoft ecosystem.
Besides Mixer, other Twitch competitors include Caffeine, Mirrativ, and Youtube Gaming (owned by Google). While none of the platforms have reached the popularity of Twitch, each has its own innovations and following.
An Inclusive Brand and Culture
An important factor in the growth of Twitch over the past eight years is the creation of online communities. Each streamer attracts a following of users, all with unique interests. The streamers themselves often develop a character persona that attracts a specific crowd. Over time, the interactions can create a bond that is as strong as offline relationships.
Overall, Twitch stream communities have an inclusive feel, and most welcome new people’s views and comments. This online camaraderie between a streamer and the people who are chatting together seems to be a big reason why people enjoy the Twitch platform.
Unlike platforms like Youtube, where comments can often turn nasty or argumentative, the majority of Twitch chat participants create an environment of friendship and community.
The brand itself has recently undergone changes to shine a light on this aspect of its culture. The new company tagline ‘You are already one of us’ aims to show that your interests and communities are easy to find through the Twitch platform.
Even the logo has roots in gaming culture. The original Twitch logo from 2011, which had an early 2000s metallic feel to it, was replaced in 2012 by a purple logo styled after 8-bit games. The same logo is used today in different forms, with the wordmark used for the app symbol.
Similar to Youtube, the Twitch brand is the umbrella under which hundreds of thousands of smaller brands exist. Finding the middle ground of community and inclusiveness is something they have navigated well.
Live From The Future
If you are not a video game enthusiast, all this attention on streaming and esports might seem like a fad.
However, looking at the numbers streaming growth doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon.
The growth in the esports market during the past ten years is likely to continue as more of the world goes online. The symbiotic relationship between esports and streaming help both grow in reach and popularity.
Twitch streaming allows viewers access to an intimate real-time connection to their favorite online celebrities and special esports events in ways that were not previously possible. Best of all, they can participate in these events from the comfort of their home and share in the comradery.
Of course, as gaming technology continues to improve, there is growing potential for businesses to be a part of the action. Whether through sponsorships and advertisements or even through creating content and live streaming, the future of streaming looks bright.
Whether online or in real life, Twitch has shown that there is a lot to be gained from sharing our passions and interests with the world and with each other. Don’t forget to check out our past brand reviews covering Starbucks, Tesla, NBA, Vans, and Dollar Shave Club.