Without video games, Twitch would not be what it is now: a livestreaming platform with millions of devoted viewers and broadcasters, some of them with tattoos of the company’s logo. But the company, which Amazon bought five years ago for more than $1 billion, has ambitions beyond serving fans of Fortnite and World of Warcraft.
On Friday, at the annual TwitchCon event in San Diego, the company will show off a refreshed design while unveiling an advertising campaign meant to emphasize that Twitch is an all-purpose livestreaming platform, rather than just a medium for showing video-gaming sessions that can go on for hours.
The campaign arrives after Twitch lost one of its biggest stars, Tyler Blevins, known as Ninja. Blevins, a gamer with 14 million followers, kept viewers entertained with his running commentary as he worked his way through marathon sessions of Fortnite. In August, he jumped to a rival streaming service, Mixer, which is owned by Microsoft.
Twitch faces intensifying competition from livestreaming services such as Mixer and Caffeine, a social broadcasting platform that received $100 million from Twenty-First Century Fox last year and was part of The Walt Disney Co.’s startup accelerator program.
Sara Clemens, chief operating officer of Twitch, characterized Twitch’s revamp not as “a migration away from gaming” but rather as an expansion to serve “the new talent developing and the new types of content that they want to broadcast.”
“Game streaming was not a career before Twitch,” she said. “We’re seeing now that some of these streamers who have been doing this for a decade are thinking about new ways to express themselves.”
Although Twitch made its name as a platform for gamers, it was designed for livestreaming anything at all. The new marketing campaign, with the slogan “You’re already one of us,” will include billboards around the country and online commercials that play up the platform’s versatility. In a 90-second video to be shown at TwitchCon, video gaming is barely represented in the cascade of quick-cut images.
A recent flip through Twitch’s channels revealed — apart from the livestreamers showing themselves playing “League of Legends” and other games — a number of lo-fi talk shows. Most were hosted by young people who donned headsets and stared into the camera, discussing whatever came to mind and responding to comments posted in real time by Twitch subscribers.
The platform has also been used for more consequential content. In February, the French government, as part of a series of talks it called the Great National Debate, streamed an 11-hour discussion on Twitch in an effort to reach young people.
More people watch livestreams on Twitch than anywhere else, according to a report from StreamElements. In the past three months, 2.7 billion hours of live content was viewed on Twitch, compared with 735 million hours on YouTube and nearly 200 million hours on Facebook Gaming.
“Every day, there’s more people on this than there are on most cable networks, and during peak events, there can be over a million people in just one category,” said Ben Schachter, an analyst at Macquarie Group. “This is the continued evolution of what video can be in a connected world.”
With so much content, some of it can slip past moderators.
Last year, live footage on Twitch from a gaming tournament in Jacksonville, Florida, captured part of a shooting that left two people and the gunman dead.
In June, Twitch filed a lawsuit in federal court in San Francisco against 100 anonymous users who had posted footage of a deadly shooting in March in Christchurch, New Zealand, as well as pornography and copyrighted entertainment.
Twitch has doubled the number of moderators this year, Clemens said, but she would not specify how many.
There are also concerns among some users about the enforcement of the platform’s standards. This month, several women who livestream on Twitch said moderators had warned them about their apparel, including midriff-baring workout clothes and one “fully covered” costume.
Twitch is “very intentionally not a free speech platform” and evaluates complaints on a case-by-case basis, Clemens said.
“We want Twitch to be the safest and most welcoming place for all communities,” she added. “We see the safety of the service being the priority for us.”
The platform has long tried to evolve beyond its reputation as a niche for gamers. In 2015, it introduced a new category, Twitch Creative, with a marathon showing of tutorials by Bob Ross, who hosted the PBS show “The Joy of Painting” and has developed a cult following since his death in 1995.
Last year, the platform replaced Twitch Creative and a category for everyday streaming, IRL, with 10 specific sections that included crafting, outdoors and ASMR. A live science fiction series on Twitch, “Artificial,” won the platform its first Emmy last month, in the category of outstanding innovation in interactive media.
Twitch Sings, an interactive karaoke-style game, started in the spring with a competition called Stream Star, which this season promises the winner $20,000 and a record deal.
Twitch also has agreements with sports leagues, including the NBA and the NFL, to stream games, sometimes with commentary from Twitch users. This year, the platform announced similar deals for wrestling and women’s hockey.
Livestreamed sports commentary on Twitch, which allows viewers to interact with the commentator, represents a shift away from traditional game broadcasts, said Anthony Danzi, the company’s senior vice president of sales, during a presentation at the Advertising Week conference in New York on Monday.
“It’s a tell about the future of TV,” he said.
As Twitch broadens its scope, companies like Wendy’s and Hershey’s have inserted ads into streams and sponsored channels. Last year, the company stopped offering an advertising-free version to all Amazon Prime subscribers.
Twitch draws a desirable audience for advertisers: “younger, incredibly digitally savvy and incredibly difficult to reach, because a lot of them are running ad blockers,” said Chad Stoller, global chief innovation officer of the UM Worldwide media agency.
Advertisers can target Twitch viewers by location and steer clear of certain accounts, such as those that feature first-person shooter video games, Danzi said. He added that the company had stopped short of “parsing out” viewers into more specific groups, as Facebook and YouTube do.
“We’re owned by Amazon, so that gives us access to a whole lot of data, but we philosophically still haven’t decided how we want to use that,” he said at the ad conference.
“Bad actors are unfortunately as creative as we are,” Clemens said. “There will be no end to the investment we make on this front.”