Social media networks have become a part of our everyday life. Whether you’re a person who only checks into Instagram once per day, or someone who has accounts everywhere and is never seen without their Twitter open, social media is an integral part of our online identity. Since the advent of these networks, the online landscape has changed drastically.
In the early 2010s, Twitter was just starting to allow photos to be displayed on somebody’s feed, previously most socials were text-based and brevity was key. As the decade passed, all social media began to accept different forms of expression; photos and video began to emerge and dominate and in the last couple of years, live streaming is beginning to take over.
As with many technological advances, live streaming first saw a boom in popularity due to videogames. Players wanted to showcase what they were playing or compete within the eSports scene and, as with traditional sports, people wanted to watch. These players flocked to Twitch.TV, formally Justin.TV.
Gaming doesn’t only create moments of excitement but also familiarity for the viewer. It wasn’t simply high skill players or eSports attracting viewers, often it’s a sense of community and personality, or a viewer learning more about their favourite games. Viewers are spending time with like-minded people.
The Life of a Streamer
Leading live streaming platform, Twitch, became the place to hang out. Over the years Twitch has pivoted from a gaming only platform to hosting cooking streams, live podcasts, music creation, painting, and much more. The largest increase in viewers has been found in the IRL section of the website, an acronym for ‘In Real Life’.
It’s in this section where creators sit and talk to their audience, often without the addition of an activity. It’s simply a person talking about their life, politics or making up silly memes. It’s popular because it feels like sitting with a friend in a coffee shop, there’s a personable quality to these streams.
Twitch was already popular in pre-pandemic times, but the platform saw a massive increase in users when the public began to enter lockdowns across the world. In January 2020 the average number of active users on Twitch was around 42 million; this more than doubled during the pandemic, reaching 87 million users in June 2021.
Growth and Expansion
In an end-of-year (2021) report, Rainmaker.gg reports that Twitch saw an increase in hours watched, jumping to a total of 24 billion views. This was a 45% increase from the 17 billion views in 2020. While not as popular as the industry leader, Facebook Gaming also saw a boost from 3.6 billion to 5.3 billion – a 47% increase.
Live streaming is driving growth not only within the social media user base but also increasing revenue and opportunities in creator economies. The market research company App Annie analysed this growth and predicts that in 2022 apps that contain a live streaming feature will break over half a trillion hours watched on Android alone. And that doesn’t include use within China.
Creators, whether they are influencers, comedians or artists, are flocking to live streaming because it offers a real-time connection to their fanbase. Users become closer to the streamer through little in-jokes or experiences of life. This is the 21st-century fan club; no more writing postcards to distant bands, now fans can open Twitch, YouTube or TikTok and hang out with those they admire.
More than that, they can directly finance the entertainer through platform currencies. In June 2016 Twitch implemented a currency called ‘Bits’ which viewers can use to ‘cheer’ within the stream, often receiving a shout out from the streamer. TikTok allows for digital currency which can be used to buy digital flowers or cuddly toys. All this revenue, after the platform takes a cut, goes directly to the streamer.
Social apps that offer a live streaming feature account for $3 of every $4 spent across the top 25 social apps for the first half of 2021. It’s big business and the savvy among the streamers know that with an increasing viewership comes sponsorship opportunities, exclusive contracts and more tips and gifts than ever before.
The live streaming concept will need to adapt as we begin taking steps into the metaverse. We’re already seeing some features on platforms that could point to the direction we’re headed. Both Twitter Spaces and Clubhouse have audio live stream features which act like rooms where anyone can join to listen to the host speak. This ranges from politicians campaigning, to humorous users playing pretend as a McDonald’s drive-thru for fifteen hours, purely for comedy.
This is already being expanded by apps like TikTok – which allows users to ‘go live’ and be featured to their followers or within the For You Page algorithm; and Snapchat – which implements Augmented Reality options to the streamer.
A Social Metaverse
In the metaverse, we will see live streaming in a variety of forms as it evolves from a static webpage or app into a more dynamic 3D space. For example, many metaverse projects currently feature ranged VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) which projects a voice to those in the vicinity. Streamers could use their plot of land within Somnium Space, or similar, to build a stage on which they will sit their 3D avatar and talk openly.
Streaming platforms could even build an arena where influencers, chefs or musicians can book time to perform and look out into a sea of real people behind digital avatars, selling tickets as NFTs which would grant admission to the audience. This would further the idea of community because you would be digitally sat next to people you interact with, possibly sparking new friendships.
And, because this is happening in the metaverse, the speaker doesn’t need to be sat in their bedroom or in front of a green screen, they could program interactive features, special effects and ways to cheer or tip them. The host may cast their videogame gameplay onto a cinema-size screen as they relax on a couch in front of the crowd, which is how charity streams like Summer Games Done Quick currently stream their physical events.
Victor He, Chairman and CEO of Scienjoy, a leading mobile video streaming platform in China, said in November 2021: “We are very excited about the NFT platform, live streaming metaverse and Artificial Intelligence broadcasters.” Scienjoy foresees companies creating more immersive video experiences using virtual characters with unique abilities to interact with each other.
eSports brands can showcase their tournaments or league games, giving way to traditional sports building virtual structures where fans can gather and cheer on their favourite team. Suddenly live streaming becomes much more than it currently is, creating a new communal atmosphere that can be easily joined by passersby.
The current leader for this metaverse transition must be Theta, who aim to provide a live streaming platform for the crypto future. Using a peer to peer network, Theta aims to bring video content out from the centralised servers, building a new infrastructure that can help cut down on loading times and provide a better quality experience. Backed by Sony and Samsung, the future is bright for creators and those who set themselves up as a peer on this new network, being paid in tokens for their part in the chain.
Next stop, TV and Movies
The hybrid and virtual events we’re seeing now, spurred on by the Covid pandemic, will continue and expand into the metaverse, further diversifying live streaming for creatives. Given that the foundations of the metaverse are currently being laid by entertainment companies, it’s clear that streaming from creators and companies like Netflix and Amazon can capitalise on this new digital frontier.
Live streaming, in recent years, directly competes with the age-old pastime of binging a boxset. Generation Z is leading the way in switching from the comfort of TV shows and movies for video content within apps and even when Gen Z is watching more traditional media, they often do it with friends.
Streaming analyst David Bloom reports on NextTV, that: “The metaverse being built by Epic Games, Oculus and Roblox, will be where Gen Z and their successors spend their time.” One must assume that individual creators currently streaming through TikTok, Twitch and YouTube will eventually drift into the metaverse, though it may take time.
Bloom continues: “That metaverse in the making surely will have places to jointly and virtually watch long-form and episodic video programming” which would be an extension of Netflix’s current party streaming option, which took off during lockdown. Of course, so much of this is speculation. Until one of the streaming leaders announces their first foray into the metaverse, we are in the dark as to how this burgeoning and lucrative industry can switch to Web3.