Sometime in the 1950s, a new form of media emerged when families bought a peculiar new device in the living rooms. Called the “television,” it used parts of theater and vaudeville, creating this interesting form of entertainment that was in the moment. It found a following despite what traditional theater said about the medium and is now the established powerhouse we see today.
Fast-forward almost 70 years later, and we might be seeing something very similar. The only difference is it’s a highly evolved version, one that can give the viewer a control it has not had in decades. It also engages audiences at a level it has never had before, and one broadcast or cable TV has never been able to give them.
All the Content Right Now
One of the advantages live streaming gets over current forms of content is in the level of engagement between the people who make them and the viewers. The content producers are making it whenever they want, which makes for a fanbase that watches their content regularly. It can take just one person to specifically hit an audience that can reach massive levels.
It makes perfect sense for live streaming to have the popularity it does today. The world has increasingly skewed towards instant gratification and they get it now with little to no waiting. Viewers show their love to streamers thanks to the immediate access.
Using Tech to Push the Viewership
The variety of apps available already give it a leg up than its conventional TV brethren. Some apps include dual-screen video functionality. Some provide high-quality video that can be accessed to your phone — that you can money from.
Live streaming also gets more reach than other video options. If you put up a video on Facebook or YouTube, for example, there is a higher chance that it will reach more followers or show up on searches. This is because live content is favored over other forms of media.
Sites like YouTube and Vimeo years ago revolutionized the way we looked at the video online when they came onto the scene. YouTube alone effectively monopolized the market, making around $3.6 million dollars in 2012 and ballooning to more than $9 billion in 2015. Part of this was due to the inclusion of YouTube Live, which used the already growing creator base and advertisers to make an obscene amount of money.
When Facebook Live was opened in 2016, everyone from the average user to top brands quickly adopted it. The promise of broadcasting to a worldwide base of one billion users is too tempting to pass up. The most important part of Facebook Live is that live posts have no expiration, so now any live stream people see become evergreen content ready for consumption at any time.
A Concert From Your Sofa
Now that we live in a smartphone society, Periscope and other mobile live streaming services from a more on-the-ground perspective. The combination of brands like Bud Light with pop megastars like Lady Gaga on Facebook Live shows generates audiences far larger (30,000-plus) than the actual venues she is performing at.
Bigger events have made deals with brands to make live streams. Red Bull TV started a campaign with the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival for a real-time broadcast, giving people access to the fun happening in Tennessee. Not only did they get to see awesome live sets, but there were also backstage segments with artists as well.
While live streaming events have been immensely popular, a huge bulk, if not all of it, is being used to broadcast video games played at amateur or pro levels for e-sports competitions. The hub for most of this is at Twitch, a live streaming service that originally catered to gamers.
The best Twitch streamers can be seen destroying players on games like Overwatch and League of Legends. Twitch game streamer Ninja has amassed a career playing the highly-popular game Fortnite, which has skyrocketed in hours played on the site. In just one year, Fortnite has taken over almost half of the traffic.
TigerWriter, one of 25 Top Twitch Streamers to Watch in 2018
And it is expanding outside of their rooms. An event held in Las Vegas by Ninja and other gamers fought for prize money. They pulled in more unique viewers than the first round of the 2018 NFL draft and the season finale of The Walking Dead.
The qualities these Twitch personalities can differ, as long as they stand out from the pack. Some are high-intensity people who dance to loud songs. Some are the best gamers, or just play them for the first time and get their audience to engage with the experience.
This helps their fans become interactive a very deep level at times. These live streamers sometimes use their channel to raise money for good causes. One really awesome one was when a gamer played an old-school game (Donkey Kong 64) for three days for a UK trans group, to outstanding success.
The usefulness this can be for women is understated. Many female gamers on Twitch amass a huge following with sponsorships to boot. Imane Anys, aka Pokimane, is a rising internet star that pulls up to $618,000 a year from gaming videos and social media campaigns.
The most popular Twitch streamers have been able to get support outside of gaming. Ninja has received sponsorships with non-gaming brands such as Hershey’s and Reese’s Pieces. Pokimane has a very cushy contract with her making Nissin cup noodles during her stream.
The Switch Inside of Twitch
But like any other media platform, they have to diversify to survive. In 2016, they allowed non-gaming streams, giving it an edge over YouTube Live. Originally genres like IRL, no-hold-barred art, talk shows, music, and some with 24/7 content that played Bob Ross or old-school Doctor Who on repeat dominated.
The changes Twitch makes to their programming has allowed more niche categories to gain audiences. Tabletop gaming is one of those areas and in particular Critical Role, an incredibly popular live show where voice actors play Dungeons & Dragons, have taken advantage of it heavy. They recently started a crowdfunding campaign for an animated movie that has skyrocketed to over $7.5 million dollars, ten times the amount they set as the goal.
Others Want To Play, Too
Twitch is not the only one in the live stream game market. Facebook recently launched Fb.gg where they can access a library of video games streaming on Facebook. The page will also include gaming events, videos based on their favorite creators, and e-sports competitions.
Twitch is Beating Actual Networks
Streaming content is already a big thing, but people heavily underestimate the scope of it. Reports on Twitch’s viewership numbers sat at around 1 million for 2017. That put it just below ESPN and Fox News, and above CNN and MSNBC.
An Overlooked Marketing Weapon
Marketing companies still underestimate telling their clients about using streaming as a tool. They still think it’s just a haven for gamers, but it is possible to reach other audiences. It’s also another way to drive up traffic without using costly services like search engine optimization — it can basically be free at times.
When there is an average of 15 million daily active users, brands can’t pass up an opportunity. They reach out to this new market, with the two million-plus streamers as their weapon. Major influencers have received lucrative deals from tech companies, sometimes in the hundreds of thousands.
A Brave New World for Telecom
This all reads as incredibly lofty optimism, but consider the rise of people “cutting the cord” from their cable provider thanks to the rise of video streaming services, now, with the increasing popularity of live streaming on social media and the deals Facebook, Twitter and others are making, they are breaking the rules of entry for getting the content (and audience) cable and telecommunications companies established decades ago. These new companies have said they aren’t the competition, but there’s no denying that they really are.
The outlook for this new frontier is nowhere near finished. There are still new developers, ideas, and pivots coming in every day. They are still looking for better ways to interact with what businesses and analysts call Generation C, the cross-generational group that is tech-savvy and creates and curate content.
What is the Future of Live Streaming?
What comes ahead is the human component of the medium. Barriers will continue to lower between creators and audiences that will blur the lines of the experience. Of course, you should just look at what the kids are using for live streaming — that’s how the companies eventually started using Twitch and YouTube.
The history of television showed us that it evolved into the recorded shows we know today. The streams we see now are still in this semi-experimental stage, still holding onto the spirit of its roots but feeling the pull of traditional media and companies trying to find their way into this new medium. Two things will decide it: the steps they take, and what the audience wants.