Business of Sport: Human connection needed now more than ever, says Twitch executive

In 2020, Twitch hit one trillion minutes watched as compared to 660 billion the year before. PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - If ESPN was a staple of the sports fan in the 2000s, American video live streaming service Twitch is hoping to become the equivalent for live-streamed content.

The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the growth of the global live streaming market as imposed lockdowns in nations and movement restrictions led to people going online for entertainment.

A report by StreamElements and Arsenal.gg showed that the live streaming industry experienced a 99 per cent year-on-year growth in April last year, with viewership on platforms such as Twitch, YouTube Gaming and Facebook Gaming totalling 3.934 billion hours.

In 2020, Twitch hit one trillion minutes watched as compared to 660 billion the year before. When the Covid-19 pandemic began in March last year, the Amazon subsidiary saw an average of 1.5 million tuning in to the platform at any one time and that number has gone up to 2.5 million in May 2021.

Twitch's senior vice-president for Asia Pacific Sunita Kaur told The Straits Times: "We don't want to replace going out, what we are seeing is that people are continuing to make this a part of their day so we are confident that will continue.

"We've also used the opportunity to improve our service. We've rolled out a Twitch e-sport directory. This makes it easier for viewers to find and watch their favourite games and tournaments."

With the pandemic wiping out many mass in-person events, performers and creators, including stars like Elton John, have taken to platforms such as Twitch, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok and Facebook to fill the void.

During the Premier League's pandemic-enforced hiatus last year, former Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero kept fans entertained as he live streamed himself playing Fifa 20 and other games on Twitch.

Kaur said: "More importantly, we are able to find communities that we could continue to engage in because more than ever, this is what we need: human connection."

As it experienced global growth amid the pandemic, Twitch is also thriving in the Asia-Pacific region, a market it sees huge growth potential in.

The platform experienced a one-and-a-half-time increase in viewership in the region from the first quarter of 2020 to the second quarter and saw the number of active broadcasters double from June 2019 to June last year.

Kaur pointed to how 30 per cent of people in the region watch e-sports as compared to other regions like Latin America (20 per cent), India (14) and North America (13).

On top of that, 1.4 billion of the region's 4.3 billion people identify as gamers and according to global research firm Statista, Asia-Pacific is the largest gaming market in the world based on revenues, with the region expected to bring in US$84.3 billion (S$111.5 billion) in 2020.

The second biggest market is North America's, which is expected to hit revenues of US$44.7 billion.

"We want to be able to service our creatives, our audience and brand advertisers in a much closer way. Part of that is wanting to build our teams and wanting to improve our service in what we are seeing coming out of the Asia Pacific region," said Kaur, who joined Twitch from music streaming platform Spotify in February last year.

Twitch's senior vice-president for Asia Pacific Sunita Kaur joined Twitch from music streaming platform Spotify in February 2020. PHOTO: TWITCH

Twitch also wants to leverage on its global audience. For example, South Korean e-sports organisation T1 Entertainment & Sports, whose League of Legends teams have won three world championships, inked an exclusive, multi-year agreement with Twitch last year to utilise the streaming platform for all its gameplay and content.

Under this partnership, Twitch's United States team will push out T1's content to ensure that it reaches a wider following beyond the Asia Pacific.

Another area Twitch wants to expand is its repertoire of offerings. Last year, it introduced live sports as a standalone category on its platform.

In 2020, several English Premier League and Champions League matches were streamed live on the platform for United Kingdom and German audiences respectively.

That same year, the National Football League renewed its partnership with Amazon to stream 11 Thursday Night Football games on Twitch and Prime Video.

Closer to home, Twitch partnered with the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) last year, securing the rights to broadcast KBO games in the 2020 season.

As the live-streaming landscape heats up, Twitch faces competition from other big players like Facebook and YouTube, as well as regional and local live-streaming platforms.

But Kaur welcomes the diversity and shared that last year, as Twitch saw more creators joining the platform, its content partnerships team worked on making the onboarding process for creators better by launching programmes to learn the nuances of streaming and how to make money on the site.

Broadcasters can earn revenue through paid viewer subscriptions, advertisements and through virtual emotes, which are custom Twitch emoticons that can be bought with in-site virtual currency, that their supporters can send them over chat.

Kaur said: "When you think about where the live-streaming landscape is now, the more players we have, the more opportunity we have to talk about live streaming and to raise up the industry so that's very important.

"We've been doing this a long time and all of the communities and tools on Twitch are just so natural. That's where we will continue to hold audiences and creators because it's just so easy to be either a creator or viewer on Twitch."

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