Twitch Makes Moves Beyond Gaming
The live-streaming platform broadens its self-definition to include all kinds of creators and content.
The last few months have been big for gaming. Perhaps you’ve heard? It’s also been a time of growing popularity for live streaming, which has allowed industries and the personalities that drive them to connect directly with audiences from a social distance.
In the midst of this craving for virtual engagement Twitch, a livestream gaming platform founded in 2011 and acquired by Amazon in 2014, has slid into the mainstream. Despite the shifts the pandemic has precipitated, Twitch has been preparing for this moment for years. A recent talk from an advertising executive who led Twitch’s rebranding last fall makes it clear that the platform has had its eye on the world beyond gaming for some time.
In broadening its self-definition from a platform for gamers to one for all kinds of creators and content, Twitch was well-positioned for 2020, the year of the homebody. The interactive livestream and on-demand technology that made Twitch so attractive to gamers has become valuable in multiple corners of the internet and the economy as a whole. The long-form nature of the platform, which is more commonly used on desktop than mobile, lends itself to programming that combines the scale of live events with the casual feel of hanging out with a friend. For both creators and fans, Twitch offers something unique.
Over the past decade, the gaming streaming market has grown. Platforms like Mixer, YouTube Gaming, and Facebook Gaming have moved in on Twitch’s territory, carving out exclusive esports streaming deals, not unlike those between the major networks and the NFL. All the while, Twitch has made a concerted effort to court personalities and brands from outside the gaming world, building a moat of diverse content around its core streaming business model.
As recently reported in Digiday, non-gaming content on Twitch has quadrupled over the past three years. Beauty influencers who can no longer hold live events are now on Twitch. Musicians who can’t play shows are on Twitch. Fashion shows, too. Even politicians who can’t hold campaign rallies are on Twitch. Just before the election, U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez played Among Us alongside streamers Pokimane and Hasanabi. During the three-and-a-half-hour stream, (which peaked at 439,000 views, third-highest-viewed single stream in Twitch history), AOC mostly focused on the game but also wove in policy. She encouraged viewers to vote and invited British streamers to share their experience with the NHS, the UK’s publicly funded health care system.
This was a savvy move both for the Democratic party (43% of Twitch’s user base is Gen Z) and for Twitch, whose response to a crowded market has been to redefine itself into a broader one. It remains to be seen how the platform will evolve as more users flock to it. The user interface is deliberately maximalist, the lingo a little tricky for a novice to pick up on. It’s deliberately weird. But as more brands and individuals see the value of connecting with an audience through such a direct medium, we can expect to see new users develop their own norms. If Twitch achieves its goal, it will be home to millions of little communities, all accessible in one place.