The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Video games come of age as a spectator sport as Amazon buys Twitch for $970 million

  • Print

NEW YORK, N.Y. - Video games have been a spectator sport since teenagers crowded around arcade machines to watch friends play "Pac-Man." And for decades, kids have gathered in living rooms to marvel at how others master games like "Street Fighter II" and "Super Mario Bros."

But today there's Twitch, the online network that attracts millions of visitors, most of whom watch live and recorded footage of other people playing video games —in much the same way that football fans tune in to ESPN.

Twitch's 55 million monthly users viewed over 15 billion minutes of content on the service in July, making Twitch.tv one of the world's biggest sources of Internet traffic. According to network services company Sandvine, Twitch generates more traffic in the U.S. than HBO Go, the streaming service that's home to popular shows such as "Game of Thrones" and "Girls."

Fans watch for the same reasons ancient Romans flocked to the Colosseum: to witness extraordinary displays of agility and skill.

Jacob Malinowski, a 16-year-old Twitch fan who lives outside of Milwaukee, admits that some may question the entertainment value of Twitch's content.

"(But) I think it's interesting because you get to watch someone who's probably better at the game than you are," he says. "You can see what they do and copy what they do and get better."

Amazon's commitment to purchase Twitch for nearly $1 billion this week is an acknowledgement that the service's loyal fan base and revenue streams from ads and channel subscriptions present enormous opportunity.

Most Twitch viewers are gamers themselves who not only see the live and recorded video sessions as a way to sharpen their abilities, but also as a way to interact with star players in chatrooms or simply be entertained.

Sorah Devlin, a 31-year-old mother of two from Geneva, New York, says she watches Twitch with her 7-year-old son and 4 year-old daughter and enjoys it more than children's television programming. Their game of choice is "Minecraft," which lets players build —or break— things out of cubes and explore a blocky 3-D world around them. Devlin and her kids watch popular "Minecraft" players who go by names such as iBallisticSquid and SuperChache show their skills. The players, she says, have a sense of humour and are good at keeping the content "at most PG" so she is comfortable watching them with the kids.

"He likes being able to ask questions and it made him open up more," she says of her son. As for Amazon's purchase, Devlin says she was "kind of surprised, but I think they are starting to realize that gamers are much more of an enterprise than they thought."

Indeed, Twitch fans are the stuff of advertisers' dreams. They are mostly male and between the ages of 18 and 49, an important demographic for advertisers. Twitch's so-called user engagement is high. Nearly half of visitors spend 20 or more hours a week watching Twitch video, according to the company.

"You've got a hyper-growth platform with a niche audience," says Nathaniel Perez, global head of social media at advertising firm SapientNitro. "It's basically the best you can get, from an advertisers' perspective."

As a result, Twitch's commands premium prices from advertisers. The company's cost per thousand views, or the amount an advertiser pays to run one video ad 1,000 times, is $16.84 in the U.S., according to video ad-buying software company TubeMogel. That's well above the average $9.11 per thousand advertisers typically pay for video ads placed on other sites.

"Their users are relevant to so many advertisers," says Alex Debelov, CEO and co-founder of Virool, a video advertising platform company.

Twitch can be lucrative for talented gamers too. The site allows some gamers who set up channels —what the company calls "broadcasters"— to charge $5 monthly subscription fees to viewers. Plus Twitch gives a portion of all ad revenue to broadcasters.

Twitch didn't start out as a video game-focused company. The company, based in San Francisco, spun out of Justin.tv, a quirky service that revolved around a video feed tracking the daily activities of co-founder Justin Kan. The focus shifted to live video for gamers in 2011.

Brett Butz, 26, who works as a compliance officer outside of Boston, says he's spent $20 to $25 to watch content on Twitch, which is "more than I ever paid for YouTube," which also broadcasts games. While YouTube is popular with gamers, Butz says he prefers Twitch as a place to view games.

Amazon is promising to let its newest acquisition operate independently. But for some gamers, the deal brands Twitch with a corporate stamp.

"I'm curious to see if, in a year, it'll still have cache," says Patrick Markey, psychology professor at Villanova University who focuses on video games. "It's definitely considered a gamer platform but now that Amazon is buying it, is it becoming mainstream...is it going to lose its coolness?"

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

J.P. Vigier’s Whiteboard: Coach Maurice’s first full season

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A baby Red Panda in her area at the Zoo. International Red Panda Day is Saturday September 15th and the Assiniboine Park Zoo will be celebrating in a big way! The Zoo is home to three red pandas - Rufus, Rouge and their cub who was born on June 30 of this year. The female cub has yet to be named and the Assiniboine Park Zoo is asking the community to help. September 14, 2012  BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
  • KEN GIGLIOTTI  WINNIPEG FREE PRESS / July 23 2009 - 090723 - Bart Kives story - Harry Lazarenko Annual River Bank Tour - receding water from summer rains and erosion  damage by flood  and ice  during spring flooding -  Red River , Lyndale Dr. damage to tree roots , river bank damage  , high water marks after 2009 Flood - POY

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Do you think food-security issues are an important topic to address during this mayoral campaign?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google