The streaming wars are well underway. It’s not a literal war, of course. More a battle for supremacy and market share in a space where evolving technology and the way people use it are redefining not only how we consume content but how brands are built and audiences reached. For a lot of people over the age of 30, the term “streaming” is most commonly associated with on-demand movies and television offered by Netflix, Amazon, and Apple, as well as YouTube for all of those how-to videos on things like home and automotive repair, and old news and TV clips. But these are just facets of the streaming wars. The rise of the live stream is the new front, and it’s one that is growing exponentially.
The first time I took live streaming’s potential seriously was through Periscope, which was acquired by Twitter in 2015. Periscope allowed users to live stream content and engage audiences in real time, in creative ways. The early adopters were journalists but the DIY approach never really gained mass adoption. In response, Periscope evolved its streaming tech to live stream major events such as Congressional hearings, elections and more.
In 2020, the options for live streaming abound, on platforms like Facebook and Instagram, TikTok (providing you have a minimum of 1000 followers), and Twitch, the latter being the platform that has really pushed the potential of streaming technology. I admit, Twitch didn’t catch my attention at first (my only excuse is that I’m over 40). I knew about it because my kids and several of my colleagues are serious gamers. My kids would often talk about their favourite gamers, like PewDiePie, Ninja, and DanTDM—the first wave of true streaming celebrities; my colleagues focused more on the ways in which streaming was being used to build audiences, brands, and revenue, and the many tiers and nuances that have evolved with the technology. Still, I didn’t really take Twitch seriously until late November, 2017, when I read a piece by Taylor Clark in The New Yorker.
A bit of background
Clark traced the rise of gamers who had built substantial online followings playing their favourite video games. Video game developers quickly realized that online gamers were becoming legitimate influencers who could determine the fortunes of their brands and products. This hastened a new angle of strategic marketing and sponsorship for the industry aimed at favourable reviews. In turn, gaming influencers got organized, acquired agents, and negotiated substantial deals to secure legitimate incomes, often six figures large.
When Clark’s piece was published, Twitch was one of the top 20 most trafficked sites in the United States and it’s been growing ever since. To put this into perspective for older audiences, Clark compared Twitch’s traffic to conventional media: “With viewership numbers that rival those of MSNBC or CNN, Twitch is less like a conventional Web site than like a kaleidoscopic television network: thousands of channels at once, broadcasting live at every hour of the day.”
Fast forward to 2020 and Twitch has evolved beyond just video game streams. Pretty much any conceivable human activity can be broadcast. Musicians use it. Artists use it. DJs use it. Self-help gurus use it. Aspiring influencers of every stripe use it. Professionals who want to build a personal brand within their profession use it. Random people talking about and doing random things use it. I think Joel Golby put it best in an article he wrote for the Guardian in 2019: “If you can do it and a camera can be pointed at it, then Twitch can host it. And people will watch it.” This emerging trend caught the attention of brands outside the world of game development and they took note. More on that in a bit. But first, let’s talk theory.
A theory on mass adoption
The process of Twitch’s mass adoption aligns neatly with Everett Rogers’ Theory of Diffusion of Innovations, which outlines how an innovation reaches a critical mass of adoption. Rogers stated that four main elements influence the spread of a new idea: the innovation itself, communication channels, time, and a social system. In turn, the trajectory of mass adoption relies on five categories of adopters: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards—a group that author Simon Sinek describes as the folks who only recently gave up their rotary phones. For an innovation to self-sustain, the rate of adoption must reach a critical mass of early and late majorities, which combined account for ~68% market penetration.
The following graph provides a visualization of the process:
In the early ‘90s. Geoffrey Moore expanded on Rogers’ theory, with a specific focus on tech innovation. Moore argued that innovators and early adopters (or visionaries as he calls them) have different expectations for new technologies than the pragmatists—Moore’s revised name for the early majority. The differences in expectations create a chasm accounting for between 15% and 18% market penetration. The goal of marketers is to focus on one segment at a time, using the prior to market to the next. Successfully disrupting the market with a new tech innovation through mass adoption only happens by “crossing the chasm” and appealing to the pragmatists who won’t try something until others have tried it first. Once this happens, the table is set for the late majority and eventually the laggards to follow suit.
Twitch is currently in the process of crossing the chasm. And they’re not the only ones competing in the race for DIY streaming supremacy. YouTube strengthened its live streaming position considerably albeit with some distinction. Twitch, for instance, ranks feeds by the number of current viewers, whereas YouTube ranks streamers based on authority in content verticals. As long as you’re always streaming about the authoritative topic that built your audience, YouTube’s algorithm will treat you equitably. But if you’ve built your audience on DIY home repair videos and suddenly want to live stream about fly fishing or knitting, best of luck. That kind of pivot will require a new audience, which you may or may not have the time and wherewithal to painstakingly build.
Others are evolving, too
Sites like Reddit have also begun innovating in this direction. When it launched back in 2005, Reddit was a simple yet elegant news aggregator, with the most popular content being promoted to the front page through anonymous user upvotes. 15 years later, Reddit users are in on the live streaming game thanks to Reddit Public Access Network (RPAN). Here, too, live streams constitute a seemingly infinite variety of content. Just the other night, I scrolled through RPAN, enthralled, watching a newborn litter of puppies, a guitarist taking live requests, two friends having a discussion about drama and politics in their social circle, a woman knitting a sweater, and a cobbler making a pair of shoes—a fascinating blend of technologies, old and new.
With mass adoption visible on the horizon, brands are beginning to incorporate live streams on these platforms to reach huge swaths of the millennial market and beyond. New product unveilings and launches are becoming increasingly popular, as are give-aways, limited-run offerings, Q&As, fundraisers, behind-the-scenes features, and video supplements to podcasts, among many other uses. Even pro-athletes are evolving their business models, creating their own production companies capable of leveraging this technology to build and profit from their personal brands. Here’s the subtitle to all of this: if your brand isn’t at least considering streaming, it ought to be; otherwise, you’re risking your brand’s growth potential and the public’s awareness of who you are, what you do, and why you do it, especially now that COVID-19 is accelerating the adoption of streaming technology.
At present, a lot of brands face barriers to entry. Positioning a quality brand on YouTube or Twitch relies on producing a quality stream, and achieving this requires hardware, software, and technical competencies. It also requires brands to be flawlessly clear on their audience, positioning, and voice. Additionally, you must ask yourself, “how does my brand apply to these platforms?” These are big questions that will likely require re-evaluating the way you represent your brand and communicate with your audience—evolution for an evolving landscape.
“Evolve or die” is a saying we often hear in our hyper-technological age. The pace of advancement and disruption doesn’t just erode established norms, it shatters them; and it’s a trend that will surely continue for the foreseeable future. It’s a reality that has made it difficult for brands and businesses to adapt, especially given the cost and technical learning curves that inevitably go hand in hand with progress. Add to this the considerable work that goes into brand development and it can be overwhelming.
The evolution of ev+ AGENCY
Before the global pandemic, my colleagues at ev+ AGENCY were already busy developing a new streaming studio. It’s part of our broader strategy to evolve our services to support clients in this rapidly changing business environment. We recognized the potential and understood many of our clients would have difficulty meeting the technical challenges without our help. And to be frank, failure to evolve on our part would render us delinquent in our obligation to support clients with the most efficient, cost effective and populous marketing channels in service of their brands and messages. Our timing, as fate would have it, couldn’t have been better.
As the world continues it’s rapid transition to virtualization, we’re helping clients build strategy and market their brands through streaming technology, and we’ve found it’s a tool best deployed through strategic marketing partnerships, where we work as an external marketing team, creating annual plans and using the big picture to determine when and where to deploy certain tools and strategies. It’s part of our belief in investing in those who invest in us, building strong, lasting partnerships that are focused on results and always being more.
As I write, the team is busy at work in the studio, prepping live, live simulated, and video-on-demand productions, for clients and our own brand. (These are facets of streaming I’ll address in our next post). Suffice to say, the future can feel nebulous, overwhelming and uncertain, especially when it concerns disruptive technology that can impact growth and business continuity. But it can also be exhilarating, and adopting new technologies can give your brand an edge. When you invest in a team with the technical capacity and capability, an emphasis on strategy, and a firm belief in what you do and why you do it, the possibilities abound.