This week, San Francico’s Twitch TV ranked fourth–above even Facebook and Hulu–in a survey of Internet traffic in the United States at peak hours by The Wall Street Journal. Founded in June 2011 by Justin Kan and Emmett Shear, the website streams, in real time, gamers playing a host of competitive titles all over the globe. The site has flourished in the video game community and industry as Twitch TV meets the demand for professional game play. However, it is not just professional play that is drawing in views and users.
According to Twitch TV’s 2013 annual report, the website nets 45 million “unique viewers” per month, broadcasts 6 million videos, has 900,000 “unique broadcasters,” and 5,100 partnered. While watching a selected broadcast, either live or previously aired, viewers with a free account can live chat on a side bar if they chose. Some broadcasters even maintain a regular schedule, like a television show does on cable. Viewers can select content based on which game is being played or who is playing it.
The overwhelming 68 percent of Twitch viewers ranging from 18 to 49 years old have actually cut down on their TV usage, as the multitude of free, high quality HD content is extremely convenient. Game console makers have caught on, and included streaming capabilities to in the next generation consoles, bypassing the need for a computer to stream. In fact, Shear believes that in 10 years eSports will be bigger than athletic sports, following the current trend of more people playing video games than sports already, according to an online interview with Shear.
In an example of globalization at its best, the compression of time and space made possible by the Internet enables Twitch TV to provide a unique experience that puts them at the forefront of contemporary entertainment. There is an almost ironic “globally local” culture to video game titles, which have pre-existing cultures. With Twitch, members of these previously small communities are seamlessly transported to watching and interacting with their counterparts.
Viewers and content makers push the limits of these games that even the designers never intended. For example, “Super Smash Bros. Melee,” the Nintendo mascot brawler, was intended to be a party game. However, the title has become intensely competitive since its release in 2001, and over the years the competitive community for the game grew on its own. However, in the present day Twitch TV can tap into pre-existing communities like this that managed to expand without online play, affording them the opportunity for even more rapid growth. Now 13 years after its release, “Melee” is one of the most watched titles on the site.
While the site draws comparison to user generated content sites like YouTube, it navigates the murky waters of monetizing much more seamlessly, proving how the gaming industry has matured over the decades. Gaming conventions like E3 and eSports events for titles like “League of Legends,” “Call of Duty,” and “StarCraft” utilize Twitch like ESPN is used in the sports industry. The website is a direct and open channel to consumers who provide instant feedback. This pushes the limits of not only the advertisement but also direct development of titles, in addition to putting gamers’ talents on display to be marveled at.
As for content creators, many accept donations or provide the option of voluntary subscription services from their audience. YouTube’s Hank and John Green developed Subbable, an independent donation subscription service to support their projects and other creators that look to avoid being dependent on the Google-controlled ad revenue paradigm. Twitch TV philosophy is similar but is advantageous for growth because of the hyper connectivity of the creations that viewers are directly interacting with and sharing at a mind-blowing rate every minute of the day.
People may tease PBS for their telethons for donations and public support, but no one can deny their success that is measured by the generosity given to the most loved content. Netflix and HBO are giants in the film and television industry and are garnering accolades and awards without requiring a cable package. Twitch TV matches the maturity of these organizations, providing free content that gains revenue based on merit and offers the consumer a soapbox for celebrity, self-expression, and dialogue that can shape the future of games and media alike.
Photo courtesy of Twitch