Author(s): Peter Bryer
Twitch.tv is a site dedicated to the live broadcast of game play and to building social interactions around the action. Twitch, owned by Amazon, has more than 100 million visitors per month, and 1.5 million broadcasters. Many gamers have hundreds of thousands of followers and some have many millions. Some eSports stars become global celebrities.
Twitch enjoys impressive levels of engagement. Watching other people play computer games live can generate user audiences as large as those of network television shows.
This week, Google unveiled a competing live-streaming service and application called YouTube Gaming. This also offers the live broadcast of game play from PCs but, unlike Twitch, YouTube doesn't support direct broadcasts from the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One. However, YouTube does allow for higher-quality video, with resolutions of 1080p at 60 frames per second. It also uses HTML5 rather than Flash, which Twitch is still in the process of moving away from.
Game content is nothing new to YouTube. Most serious Twitch broadcasters already use YouTube to archive and share their tournament play, generating advertising revenue for themselves and Google. Support for live rather than just archived game play is a natural extension for YouTube.
Live streaming isn't new to the site, either: broadcasts have been possible since 2011 for registered productions, and YouTube has been growing its user total over the past few years. YouTube Gaming is a subset of YouTube Live, and should promote the Live service to a larger audience.
Amazon's Twitch and Google's YouTube are ultimately working to expand their live broadcast facilities to include more high-profile events, competing with traditional television broadcasters as well as with each other.
The numbers for Twitch illustrate there's significant opportunity in live-streaming broadcasts. The service generates revenue from gaming fans (who pay $5 in monthly subscriptions) and via ad impressions. Twitch serves up to 500 million ads per month to a targeted audience.
Google faces the challenge of avoiding copyright problems with live content given its autonomous policing of violations — Google's Content ID marks potentially copyrighted material that could lead to awkward experiences or false positives for broadcasters. Twitch appears to have reached a balance between broadcasters and copyright holders.
Despite Twitch's head start, YouTube has a lot to gain if it can approach the levels of engagement that its rival enjoys. The future of television looks a lot like Twitch and YouTube, and they're well-placed to bring entertainment to younger generations.