As TikTok has exploded in popularity over the past few years, publishers have been quick to jump on the opportunity, from established news organisations like The Guardian and The Telegraph to digital natives like Vox and BuzzFeed.
This wasn’t a direct revenue play – for a long time, TikTok didn’t offer direct monetisation opportunities for publishers (though that is now starting to change). Rather, publishers spotted an opportunity to build an audience among young, hard-to-reach users, in a platform where they are highly engaged.
Live streaming platform Twitch offers a lot of the same benefits. Its users skew young, with 75 percent of Twitch viewers between the ages of 16 and 34. And they tend to be highly engaged. Viewers watched 1.3 trillion minutes of content in 2021 which, when divided between 31 million average daily users, works out at just under two hours per day per person.
What’s more, Twitch has for years offered direct monetisation tools to all users, publishers included, giving more incentive to invest in the platform.
And yet we’ve not seen anywhere near the same interest in Twitch as we have with TikTok. The Washington Post and Complex stand out as two mainstream publishers which have established themselves on the platform – other examples are hard to find.
Good Game, Well Played
Granted, Twitch’s audience, while massive, is much smaller than TikTok’s (TikTok claims 50 million daily active users in the US alone). And its strong association with gaming may be off-putting for those unfamiliar with the space. So direct comparisons to TikTok aren’t quite fair.
But the fact remains that there are significant reasons for publishers to invest. The Washington Post has 42,000 followers on Twitch, with its most popular stream topping 13,000 views. Complex meanwhile has 22,000 followers, with its most popular stream reaching over 90,000 viewers.
And Twitch has a number of specific benefits which go beyond sheer reach. For a start, while the platform is far behind TikTok and YouTube in terms of total user count, it is a leader in live streaming specifically, making it a natural home for live content.
The Washington Post uses its channel to broadcast live streams of major press conferences and debates, alongside analysis.
“At The Washington Post, we seek to meet our audiences where they are,” said Phoebe Connelly, director of next generation audience development at The Washington Post. “Twitch felt like a natural fit for our live video coverage which gives Twitch users the convenience of being able to seamlessly move from their chosen streamer to an election night stream or incisive news analysis from Post journalists.”
And Twitch offers live and direct interaction with viewers, giving a fairly unique opportunity to build strong relationships with new audiences.
“Complex has one of the most loyal and engaged audiences who rely on us to lead the conversation on fashion, music and culture,” said Nick Wang, head of distribution and business development at Complex Networks in a statement discussing the launch of the channel. “It was only natural for us to bring this audience to Twitch’s innovative service and give our fans a way to literally be a part of those conversations.”
Complex’s ‘One on One’ series is a good example. The series sees custom footwear designers do live customisations, giving viewers the opportunity to ask questions about the process
This interactivity is important for the Washington Post too. “We have found the live chats to be some of the smartest and most engaged we have encountered on any platform—they want to know more, talk with each other and pose questions in real time to our journalists,” said The Post’s Phoebe Connelly.
And while the ability to monetise content is a bonus, Connelly says that audience engagement is the major focus. “While we’ve experimented in a variety of ways, like offering custom emotes for channel subscribers or a custom offer for a Post digital subscription, our focus right now is on building a rapport with the audience on this platform in the hope that they come to value our journalism,” she said.
Insert Coin to Try Again
All of this begs the question of why there aren’t more publisher success stories on Twitch.
There are some obvious barriers to entry. Concerns around brand safety on the platform could be a deterrent for some publishers – though this same concern would equally apply to TikTok. Other barriers however are more unique to Twitch.
The sheer cost and effort of setting up a live stream is much bigger than that of producing a quick TikTok. TikTok in particular is attractive to publishers since the overall aesthetic of the app gives room for low budget content – a single journalist with a phone and no other resources can create a TikTok in five minutes. Twitch on the other hand requires a publication to plan long form content in advance and then run it live.
This is amplified by the fact that consistency is key on Twitch. On TikTok, a publisher can release content as and when they want, and it can accumulate viewers and bring in followers over time. On Twitch, viewers need to know when to log in to view a live stream, meaning publishers have to stick to a schedule to maximise their chances of success. It’s not really possible to dip your toes in the water with Twitch, publishers have to commit if they want to build an audience.
Ultimately, all these barriers mean that a number of publishers which have taken the plunge haven’t really seen results. Twitch is littered with defunct and disused verified publisher accounts – many who try, and even invest significantly, struggle to make the platform work.
Complex sister-publication BuzzFeed made the move onto Twitch a few years ago with gaming content channel BuzzFeed multiplayer. But the channel hasn’t broadcast in nine months, with its three most recent streams picking up 666, 13, and 7 views respectively.
Similarly, political publication The Recount, which started making dedicated shows for Twitch earlier this year, has picked up 547 followers since debuting in April. Compare this with TikTok, where it has 202,000 followers, and the difficulty of building an audience on Twitch becomes apparent.