Twitch's Identity Crisis
Twitch's Identity Crisis

The platform is changing, and brands must tread carefully.

By now, you probably know what Twitch is. However, the Twitch of today could be very different from the Twitch of tomorrow.

Two major things have happened:

  1. Twitch and gaming have infiltrated the mainstream
  2. Twitch wants to make more money

Twitch has been the go-to platform for viewing the most popular video game streamers and large eSports events for years now (in 2014 it was considered the 4th largest source of peak traffic). Over time the audience has grown to 15 million daily active users.

The big "aha" moment (that has since been well publicized) happened on March 14, 2018, when the most popular streamer, Ninja, was joined by rappers and singer/songwriters Drake and Travis Scott and the NFL’s Juju Smith-Schuster for a game of Fortnite. The event destroyed previous concurrent viewer records for an individual channel. After that, Ninja became a household name. In the month of May, viewers watched 34 million hours of Ninja live streams.

The numbers continue to go up. On June 25 during E3, concurrent users on the platform overall reached 2.9 million and, according to TwitchTracker, that record was broken on August 25 by nearly 1 million viewers. The opportunity is just too big for Twitch (or Amazon) to pass up monetizing the situation.

So far:

  • Bloomberg reported that in a bid to compete against YouTube, Twitch pursued exclusive livestreaming deals with dozens of popular media companies and personalities with dollar guarantees per year (think everyone from Will Smith to lifestyle influencer Gigi Gorgeous). While there may be some crossover in interests between Twitch's gamer community and the influencers they watch on YouTube, this is clearly a larger push by Twitch to move away from its roots in gaming and to attract a much larger audience for all livestreaming content.

  • Twitch brought in more advertising and less opportunity to opt out. Advertising opportunities have been around for a while now on Twitch, but viewers could use their Amazon Prime memberships and receive ad-free viewing. That comes to an end as of September 2018. Users will then need to pay for a different membership called Twitch Turbo or be forced to watch ads before and within live-streams

Many brands still have trepidation toward engaging in the gaming or eSports communities, concerned they might be seen as inauthentic for entering the space. This will begin to chip away as the opportunity for advertisement grows and more mainstream audiences move into the mix. Brands may not start with major eSports or gaming sponsorships, but a 15- to 30-second pre-roll playing for this valuable 18- to 35-year-old audience is just too good to pass up.

However, interruptive ads like those pre-rolls should not be the long game on Twitch for brands looking to build influence with the existing audience. Regardless of how it is implemented, there is a natural pushback from users and true believers. See this recent remark from a popular streamer on Kotaku:

“Please install an ad blocker if you watch my content on Twitch/YouTube because ads are a waste of your time, and I have no interest building a business off ad dollars.”

He went on to say that ad companies “do not care” about the particularities of what people are making and that he’s had previous shows die because of “squeamish investors who don’t really care or even know what they are advertising on sometimes.”

This Twitch community has largely been built on support and general fandom. Viewers subscribe to certain streamers by paying between $5 and $25/month for what many would deem little in return, just because they want to support that streamer and be part of his community. This sense of community will start to erode as interruptive advertising invades. Brands will be seen as less invested in the success of the community, the streamer or even the platform.

So here in lies the identity crisis for Twitch as it seeks to grow.

Brands can take two approaches here:

  1. Use Twitch solely for the impressions you will receive by buying ads and interrupting audiences, or
  2. Give value to the community and align yourself with its success. That means developing real relationships with streamers and integrating into their streams and other social media.

The community hopes you choose #2, but it is also better for your brand when done correctly. In that scenario, picking the right streamer and integration plan will be key. Trust and authenticity must be formed in that relationship. You must trust this streamer with your brand and he must trust your brand with his audience.

One way or another, however, there will be some level of resistance as the coming Twitch changes are implemented and more brands join in the advertising space. These changes will also likely shift the makeup of the audience - momentary spectators vs. loyal patrons.

Sooner rather than later, Twitch probably will begin to look like the YouTube of live streaming. And while it still could have awesome and addictive content, it may lose the "breaking the fourth wall" quality that has made the platform so unique – an element that created an intimate relationship between streamer and viewer. But, the brands that are attentive to this audience and understand the uniqueness of the platform have the greatest chance at upside and creating lasting influence.

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