There’s far more to online video than YouTube in 2016. Twitch, for example, has emerged as one of the most interesting platforms for digital viewing.
It launched in 2011 as a spin-off from Justin.tv, which itself started life as one man live-streaming video of his daily life, then grew into a platform for others to follow suit.
After its founders realised a lot of those people were streaming themselves playing games, Twitch was born. Since then, it has grown to a platform with more than 1.7 million people broadcasting, and an average of 550,000 simultaneous viewers in 2015.
The average Twitch viewer watches 421.6 minutes a month, with 56% of viewing happening on desktop web browsers, 35% on mobile device and 7% on consoles.
Meanwhile, 13,000 of its broadcasters are now part of its partnership programme, able to make money from their channels through a mixture of advertising, subscriptions and merchandise sales.
Amazon bought Twitch in 2015 for nearly $1bn. “The gaming industry was aware of Twitch, but Amazon opened the broader market’s eyes to what it was doing,” director of PR Chase [yes, no surname – a legacy from his DJing days] tells Music Ally.
“We represent this 15-34, 75% male demographic that so many advertisers are trying to reach. These are cord-cutters: they’re not watching traditional TV.”
They’re also not necessarily just watching games any more. In recent times, Twitch has expanded, with a number of musicians and music brand appearing on its network: from Steve Aoki and Porter Robinson to Prodigy, the Ultra Music Festival and Deadmau5.
The latter recently told Engadget that Twitch “draws a line between that disconnect between producer/performer; how he’s making these sounds and offering inside information to guys who are also aspiring to do the same thing”.
Chase says that these musicians have realised Twitch is not just about gaming. “It’s social video. It’s highly interactive. The broadcaster is talking to you, and chatting with people in the chat,” he says.
“The games might be what’s on the screen, but they’re talking about their lives, pop culture, what they had for dinner. The core thing about our platform is that it’s all about community. The content’s great, but the community is what makes it so appealing.”
That’s lending itself to commerce in some interesting ways too. Twitch channels are free to watch, but subscribers can get special “perks” which range from subscriber-only chat and merchandise discounts to exclusive “emotes” – Twitch’s equivalent of emoticons. Some are reserved for subscribers to specific channels.
Merchandise has also become a key part of the business of Twitch’s partner broadcasters, with the company working with a firm called Teespring to help them easily upload designs for, say, t-shirts, and open up orders.
Twitch broadcasters – all broadcasters, not just partner channels – can make money in two more ways. The first is in sponsorship, working with brands like many YouTubers do. The second is tips: direct donations from viewers.
Before that becomes a realistic source of income, though, a Twitch channel needs an audience. Music Ally talked to Twitch’s director of programming Marcus Graham – who broadcasts as djWHEAT – to get some tips for musicians.
SCHEDULING IS KEY
Twitch’s young audience may be cord-cutters, but its broadcasters can learn a lot from traditional television. Particularly scheduling – something that YouTubers also swear by, despite the on-demand nature of these new media.
“The thing that any new broadcaster needs to think about when first starting to build is the idea of having a consistent schedule, or having frequency in your broadcasts,” says Graham.
He notes that this isn’t so different from any social network: if you tweet once a week, you’ll be hard-pressed to attract many followers on Twitter, for example.
“In the same way that television trains you to show up for your favourite show at 7pm on this night, you’re doing the same thing with your Twitch community,” says Graham, who streams on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays with a special show on Saturdays.
“Creating a consistent schedule is the first thing you need in order to build that audience. They will schedule their day around coming back and watching your content,” he says. “That’s one of the first things you have to commit to as a broadcaster.”
Graham adds that when Twitch decides whether to grant someone partner status, it’s looking for at least two scheduled streams a week, while three is “pretty much the average”.
Musicians have plenty of other commitments, from writing and recording to playing live. Graham thinks they can make this work for them, by planning which activities might fit into a Twitch schedule.
“Look at what resources you have. Are you already practising or producing, or is there a day when you just jam? Why not stream that?” he says. “Or you might be writing, in which case why not stream that? It comes down to looking at what you might already be doing.”
DON’T JUST BROADCAST: INTERACT
Most of Twitch’s popular content may be people playing games, but they’re also talking to their audience: they don’t tend to just play silently and rely on the gaming action to hold attention. This applies just as much to musicians.
“A lot of user loyalty on Twitch comes from the idea of interaction itself. The viewers of Twitch love it when you say their name: when you recognise them as being a part of your community,” says Graham.
He says musicians who’ve broadcast on Twitch while composing or recording have understood this, citing Deadmau5 and Darude as examples of artists who’ve asked fans what they think of what they’ve just created.
“It becomes a personal, intimate experience. I always ask our broadcasters: how are you crafting an experience that’s interactive and captivates your audience?” he says.
“A lot of time that comes down to playing a game, drawing a picture, or writing a piece of music. But how are you sharing that with your audience, and are you taking time to acknowledge that audience?”
Chat is also important as part of that. “Chat is a major component of the Twitch experience. A lot of time, that’s where the heart and soul of your community-building is at,” says Graham.
EXPERIMENT WITH THE FORM
“The funny thing about Twitch is that I almost feel there isn’t a wrong approach,” says Graham, who adds that the rules of this relatively new platform are far from set in stone.
Just as OK Go made their name on YouTube with some inventive treadmill action, Twitch may suit musicians prepared to experiment with the form.
Graham cites an example: Scene Of Action Music, a one-man band who plays a host of instruments. “He created this super-unique nine-camera setup, and he can use flip-pedals to change the camera angles. There’s even a camera on his guitar to get that right-down-the-neck look,” he says.
“He puts on this one-man experience, and since he got on Twitch, he is playing the largest venues that he’s ever played at. He almost creates a new live video each time he plays, and while you don’t have to go to that extreme, people on Twitch are really receptive to that kind of content.”
TAP INTO ORGANIC DISCOVERY
Once you have a channel, broadcasting to a regular schedule, how will people find it? Graham warns that a lot of Twitch discovery is essentially word-of-mouth.
“As you create content and build a community, there’s cross-pollination on Twitch: someone who doesn’t really watch music might hang out on other gaming channels, then someone comes in who caught your music and they say ‘he did a cool show’,” he says.
“He tells Bob, Bob tells Mary, Mary tells John… That spread of new stuff and new broadcasters happens a lot. The magic is kind of in the community itself.”
There are other ways to be discovered though. Twitch has a carousel of featured streams within its Twitch Creative directory, while there’s also a simple hashtag system, with streams hashtagged music, production, live, jamming and so on.
Getting shown in the directory is a case of viewership: the more viewers you have, the more you’re likely to attract.
“Your first 25 to 50 people are probably the hardest ones to get. That’s why I suggest to people starting for the first time to use their existing circles and resources to inform people about their stream: Twitter, Facebook, an established community forum, whatever it is,” says Graham.
This is something that musicians – at least those with followings elsewhere online – should be good at.
“If you get people to know that your broadcast is happening and push them to that, it will help you get that first 25 to 50 people, and that’s where the magic kicks in – including having more exposure to our directory,” says Graham.
LET YOUR FANS HELP YOU GROW
If your audience growth goes well, you could end up with thousands or even tens of thousands of people watching your stream. As with live music, that brings its own challenges of connecting with those people in a way that feels intimate. Which in a chatroom of 30,000 people, is daunting.
“It’s a growing pain for some of our top broadcasters. It’s harder: they have to find new ways of creating almost mass interaction and involvement. It’s a bridge you cross when you reach it,” says Graham.
Twitch does have some tools to help: for example moderation, and “slow mode” where viewers are only allowed to send one message a minute. “From a community standpoint it’s not the greatest thing to do,” warns Graham, though.
If a decent number of your audience have become subscribers, changing chat to subscriber-only mode is one alternative option. Marcus says that as broadcasters’ audiences grow, they tend to learn other ways to filter out the noise.
“You’ll learn how to filter out emotes and general chat stuff, and be able to find the questions,” he says. “For example, when you have a reasonable-sized chat, you can say ‘okay, if you have questions, put a giant ‘Q’ at the beginning of your chat, so I can easily find it’. People will do that.”
He notes that as a Twitch channel grows, the keener community members will offer to moderate the chat. “They become your little stage-hands, little mini-producers on the side,” he says. “It’s amazing how many times I’m playing a game and miss a question, but I’ll get a private message [from one of his moderators] to let me know what I missed.”
WATCH OTHER CHANNELS TO PICK UP THE CULTURE
One of Graham’s key pieces of advice for new Twitch broadcasters is to watch others: for musicians, that will mean diving in to the games channels that are the lifeblood of the service, to see how those broadcasters interact with their audiences.
That’s particularly important when getting to grips with how subscriptions work on Twitch, and why encouraging people to pay isn’t seen as spammy – IF the content is good.
“Watch some other broadcasters, because the culture of subscriptions on Twitch is not really seen as a negative thing or a hard-sell. People will subscribe if they love your content, or for example if they want to watch you broadcast an extra day of the week,” says Graham.
“People will say ‘we’re shooting for 100 subs, and if we hit 100 subs we’re also going to broadcast on Thursday’. Your hardcore fans will say ‘yes!’. But watching other broadcasters on Twitch will give you a really good understanding about how people interact.”
It’s not always about pushing for subscribers. Even persuading people to follow your channel can be very important, and welcoming them suitably enthusiastically.
“Watching some of these folks for even an hour every other day can be so helpful, to see how they deal with new subscribers and followers,” says Graham.
A tip: don’t just go to the Twitch homepage and look for a channel with 5,000 to 100,000 viewers – the biggest ones. That’s not the social experience the majority of viewers have: more hang out on streams with between 50 to 300 people, where the broadcasting is more interactive.
DIG DEEPER INTO THE ANALYTICS
As with YouTube, getting to grips with Twitch’s partner dashboard is important. Graham says that one feature that is often overlooked is the geographic analytics: where people are watching from.
“Are all your users coming from the US, or do you have a large audience coming from Europe? Some broadcasters have noticed a large influx of Europeans, so they might starts streaming earlier so those people can watch in their ‘prime time’,” he says.
“You might find out that you have a pocket of viewers coming from Latin America, or somewhere else in the world. Twitch is a global platform: one of the countries that watches me the most is Croatia. I would never have known that!”
For musicians who play live, the obvious benefit here is that these analytics may inform tour-planning decisions, just as similar geo analytics on YouTube, SoundCloud, Spotify and other platforms do.
ONES TO WATCH
Here are some examples of Twitch channels that offer good examples of broadcaster / fan interaction outside music: