Photo: Laughing Squid via Flickr
Just a little more than a year ago, Justin.tv co-founders Emmett Shear and Justin Kan were kicking around an idea: building a website specifically around streaming video game matches.Fast forward one year later, and now the site, called Twitch.tv instead of Justin.tv, has more than 20 million visitors every month and has support from some of the top video game publishers in the world.
On top of that, it’s created a giant network of professional gamers that make money by streaming their video game matches, like StarCraft games and World of Warcraft games, on the site.
Who knew that there was a market for watching video game matches online?
We caught up with co-founder Emmett Shear and vice president Matt DiPietro to find out how the site is doing. Here’s what we learned:
- After launching about a year ago, Twitch.TV now has more than 20 million visitors every month. It grows by about 10 per cent month-over-month every month and partnering with a ton of publishers. For example, Twitch.tv is the streaming partner for PAX, one of the largest conventions in gaming and will unveil a host of new content from publishers like 2K Games.
- Twitch.tv now partners with 2,000 professional gamers, helping them earn money with their streams. They’re launching a new program to find star talent that might be flying under the radar, too.
- Twitch.tv is giving out scholarships to high-performing academics who are also gamers. Think of it the same way that athletes get scholarships for playing games while in school.
Here’s a lightly-edited transcript of the interview:
BUSINESS INSIDER: So, give me a quick update. How are things going?
EMMETT SHEAR: Things are going great, I don’t even know where to start. In terms of top-line, where we are in terms of numbers, in July we crossed 20 million uniques, that’s greater than 10 per cent growth month-over-month since we launched a little more than a year ago at E3. That’s huge, we’re very excited about that, the partner program now has 2,000 partners, the other number we like to talk about that we’re really proud of is the engagement. It continues to be outstanding, we get about 75 minutes average viewing time per person per day, if you compare that to other video-type platforms it’s just off the charts high. We’re really proud of it, it goes to just how sticky this kind of content is, how passionate gamers are. All of that stuff is great, we’re coming up on PAX Prime.
BI: Why PAX?
ES: PAX is very gamer-oriented. It’s very much meant for the public, people who love games will come. We’re gonna be the official streaming partner at PAX. We’re gonna have a bunch of people streaming from our booth: Sony, Trion, we’re getting debut content from a couple different developers including 2K Games.
MATT DIPIETRO: It’s a much more gamer-driven show, there’s lots of indie games that’ll debut there. If you work in the video game space, you’ll be very familiar with the idea of gaming media companies competing with each other in order to get the game preview, game reveal from publishers. What we’re seeing now is that publishers are reaching out to us as first choice in order to get game reveals to their audiences. That’s awesome, super exciting, we have a cross-section of the industry’s largest publishers that are streaming on our site as a piece of their marketing program.
BI: Sounds like you guys have picked up a ton of buzz since.
ES: At Gamescom in Germany, two weeks ago, Activision debuted COD: Black Ops 2 for the first time with Twitch as a launch vehicle for showing off the game. They chose Twitch for that because we really reach their audience and we let them do it live, instead of dropping a trailer. That’s a huge vote of confidence, Call of Duty all on its own is the single-largest game, maybe the largest entertainment franchise on the planet. To work with a brand of that calibre is really fun.
At PAX, in addition to have developers show off new games, we’re gonna be announcing the scholarship program. We went to Alienware and a few others, said people who devote themselves to gaming should be able to get scholarships the same way sports scholarships work. We’re giving $5000, $10000 scholarships to great gamers who participate in the community and get a good GPA and are student gamers. We’re gonna be announcing those five winners at PAX.
BI: Wait. A scholarship for gamers?
MD: The community went absolutely crazy for it. $50,000 total, $10,000 for five upstanding gamers. We’re culling through the applications as we speak. We’re gonna hand off the finalists to the scholarship committee. It surprised me the impressive calibre of applications we got. People that are so involved in the gaming universe while studying is amazing. They’re creating amazing content and personally they are just proud and passionate about their skill level and achievements within their given communities. Those guys, I can’t wait to make those phone calls.
ES: We should probably show up with a giant check.
BI: Wow, sign me up. Anything interesting in the pipeline that you guys can talk about?
ES: One thing we’re working on, we’re integrating streaming directly into games. We had that idea, when we were talking the very first time, we haven’t gotten it into the games. We’ve partnered with Paradox Interactive, The Showdown Effect is gonna have one-click broadcast into Twitch. You’ll be playing the game on your PC, and you click broadcast, and the gameplay will stream directly to your Twitch channel. This has been a very big initiative, we’re working closely with lots and lots of publishers. We’re hoping this becomes a standard piece of the game publishing business. Anyone who wants to be able to share their gaming experience should be able to, they shouldn’t be held back by the fact that currently it’s kind of tricky to do.
“Anyone who wants to be able to share their gaming experience should be able to, they shouldn’t be held back by the fact that currently it’s kind of tricky to do.”
MD: We have a lot of game-changing, potentially game-changing announcements that are coming up in the next short- to mid-term, we can’t talk about any of those things right now. We’re building some apps too, the Twitch Xbox Live app will hopefully be available soon, that’s dependent on Microsoft. We have a prototype that works right now on the office.
BI: How is the partner program coming along?
ES: The biggest thing for people is that as we’ve grown the number of partners, it’s become clear that if you work hard as a community broadcaster you can get into the partner program. Most people we’re adding now are community broadcasters. We’ve partnered with the major brands, ESL, they were major partners quickly. As we did more research, it’s been lots of people in the community being inducted. That had a positive effect on the community, they can make it to that level if they can just grow their audience.
MD: Just yesterday, we launched a little program called the Twitch Hidden Gems program, our inside term for it. The idea was to find all of the undiscovered potential Twitch stars that don’t get a lot of promotion, but create really great content and have a really passionate audience. We selected a bunch of those folks and are starting to highlight those smaller but really impressive channels. We plan on building that program out regularly going forward. We think there’s a lot of people out there that we want to enjoy the same kind of promotion and getting to the threshold of becoming a partner.
BI: Are you feeling pretty good about your decision to pivot?
ES: I think, in retrospect I remember people asking me, is this even gonna work. It’s pretty clear that it has, you can think of where we were in terms of uniques when we started this, we were at 3 million when we first looked at it, we’re over 20 now. That’s pretty awesome for one year. I personally feel really good about it. I really look forward to, especially with the SDK, grow it to something that’s not just part of some gaming communities, but something that can be on the precipice of all gaming communities.
MD: I believe we are building the social video layer for the entire video game industry. If you look a the content, it really bares that out. There’s an amazing cross-section of people streaming video game content. Individual gamers to the biggest publishers to media organisations, when we’re able to get Twitch embedded into devices and set-top boxes with the SDK, I think we have the chance to really fundamentally change the entire industry.