When it launched in 2011, Twitch was introduced as a new facet of Justin.tv, a livestreaming platform that started in 2007 with a single 24/7 stream from its founder, Justin Kan. Six years later, it’s the primary destination for video game-related content streaming online, drawing over 9.7 million active users every day.
On average, each of its users watches 106 minutes of content every day. Audiences are spending a lot of time engaging with the Twitch platform, making Twitch a tour de force in livestreaming and presenting a massive opportunity for both marketers and influencers. With its focus on a large and engaged audience and an evolving monetization architecture, Twitch may not be quite the household name that YouTube is, but it’s mighty in its influence.
When Justin Kan began streaming on Justin.tv in 2007, Twitch was still years away from inception. Co-founded by Kan, Emmett Shear, Michael Seibel and Kyle Vogt, Justin.tv began as a platform on which users could broadcast livestreams and opened to the public in October of its first year.
In some ways, it was way ahead of its time. Justin.tv arrived when Facebook and Twitter were still in their infancy. Even for large social networks, livestreaming is still hitting its stride. In 2007, Justin.tv was early to the game, and that’s likely what led to Twitch’s astronomical success years later.
Justin.tv had a variety of categories and gave anyone with an account the ability to broadcast a wide variety of content, from lifestreams to events to how-to’s. But it clearly saw something special within the gaming community on the platform, and it gave gaming its own section on the site in 2011, calling it Twitch.tv.
In 2014, the parent company behind Justin.tv and Twitch rebranded, becoming Twitch Interactive, and later shut down Justin.tv to focus on Twitch and the gaming livestreaming community in particular.
Since its launch, Twitch has launched a Partner Program (which allows streamers to monetize their streams), publisher and corporate partnerships, a Prime tier of Twitch, TwitchCon, and dozens of features for viewers and streamers. Now, Twitch sees over 2 million unique streamers each month and has added over 17,000 streamers to its Partner Program, and about half of its users spend 20 hours or more on Twitch every week. It’s added new features like Pulse — a somewhat Twitter-like text stream of video, photos and content from Twitch users — and a forthcoming purchase feature that will allow viewers to buy games directly through a streamer’s channel.
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The vast majority of Twitch’s streamers create content related to games in some form or another. Though there are opportunities to broadcast things like painting, illustration, and music, the primary focus of Twitch is games.
Many of the streams on Twitch feature players playing through games live (typically with a live feed of themselves playing in one corner of the screen) while they interact with their audiences through chat. That tends to be a pretty typical format for Twitch, but the platform is also used to broadcast e-sports tournaments and things like talk shows that focus on gaming. Within gaming, there are dozens of niche interests and markets served by streamers, whether it’s a specific game, like Horizon Zero Dawn or League of Legends, or a type of gameplay like speed running or first playthroughs.
Viewers watch streams on Twitch for a variety of reasons, but often because a streamer is either particularly skilled or have a compelling personality as they play onscreen, whether that means beings humorous, igniting conversation, or providing considered commentary.
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Though the direct impact of influencers on sales can be difficult to evaluate, particularly through platforms, there’s concrete evidence that Twitch influencers drive sales. In the case of the game Punch Club, Danny Hernandez, a Data Scientist at Twitch, estimates that Twitch is responsible for 25% of the game’s sales based on the behavior of Twitch’s Steam connected viewers who watched Punch Club and went on to buy the game.
Because Twitch allows viewers to watch real gameplay and hear real-time feedback from someone who’s actually playing. Authenticity is paramount to influencer-audience relationships, so it comes as no surprise that it’s a major factor on Twitch. Watching someone play through the game is a wildly different experience from watching trailers, even if they contain actual gameplay footage.
Interestingly, it’s the small and mid-tier influencers that drive sales most effectively. While top Twitch influencers may have impressive follower counts and consistently high concurrents (viewers watching the stream at the same time), small and mid-tier influencers with an average of 33 to 3,333 concurrents were responsible for 46% of sales attributed to Twitch. Hernandez found that, “Mid-tier broadcasters convert views into purchases 13 times more effectively than top-tier broadcasters, and small broadcasters convert views into purchases 1,000 times more effectively than top tier broadcasters.”
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Twitch has succeeded and is influential largely because it tapped an engaged audience and has built a community around it. Though there are opportunities for a variety of content on the platform, Twitch is gaming first and has made itself a destination for gaming livestreaming. And despite growing competition in the livestreaming market, Twitch holds onto its core users and continues to grow. Now moving into new ways to monetize streams with direct sales and new features like Pulse, Twitch is moving forward and continuing to expand the gaming community.