Twitch is an online video streaming platform that allows creators to share audiovisual content. The platform’s primary focus is on live streaming video gameplay. Other categories include music, art, live cooking, or channels for simply chatting.
The business model of Twitch is based on a variety of income streams. The company makes money by charging users a monthly subscription fee, offering their own digital currency, running video ads, as well as selling merchandise. Portions of that revenue are then shared with the platform’s content creators.
Founded in 2007 by two former Yale grads, the company has been a huge success to date. In 2014, Twitch was acquired by Amazon for $970 million. Today, over 150 million people tune in to Twitch content every month.
How Twitch Works
Twitch is a video streaming platform that allows creators to live stream their content. The service primarily focuses on live streaming video games, but also hosts content on creative topics such as music, art, culinary content (food and drinks), as well as channels to just chat.
The content on the platform can be viewed either live or via video on demand (similar to YouTube). Twitch is available on almost any device, including their website, mobile apps (Android and iOS), gaming consoles (PlayStation, Xbox, etc.), or via Smart TV’s.
One of the platform’s major selling points is that content creators (also called twitchers) can directly interact with their audience. Users can subscribe to the creator’s channel, chat with him/her during the live stream, or simply donate money to them.
Other means of social validation include features such as:
- Emotes (similar to Emojis) to express emotions via chat
- Custom Cheermotes: Animated Emotes the viewers can use to support a content creator with bits (Twitch’s own digital currency)
- Subscriber badges: Channel subscribers can use a customized chat badge to show off their fandom
The beauty of Twitch is that anybody with a functioning camera, microphone, and games console can join the platform and start creating content – in a matter of minutes. It, therefore, comes at no surprise that Twitch boasts a total of over 5.8 million monthly streamers.
A Short History Of Twitch
Twitch originally launched as Justin.tv in 2007 and was founded by Justin Kan and Emmett Shear. The pair are childhood friends who lived three blocks away from each other in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.
They both went on to study at Yale University, where they started their first business together in 2005. The product, named Kiko, was an online calendar that people could use to organize their time.
Fortune wasn’t on their side though. Just one month after launching Kiko, Google went live with Calendar, their ow online calendar tool.
Another learning from those times, as Kan mentioned on multiple occasions, was that the founders weren’t power users themselves. Plus, they rarely talked to the relevant customers, leaving them with poor product-market fit.
Nevertheless, after 14 months of operation, the team found an unlikely exit – via online marketplace eBay. They auctioned off the product for $258,000, enough to give them a head start on their next venture.
After failing at selling glow-in-the-dark gene-spliced roses online and starting a social network for families, they would finally arrive at an idea that stuck. The idea: A reality show dedicated to televising Kan’s life on the Internet, 24/7.
The business, named after Kan, ended up becoming Justin.tv. The idea quickly took off. Kan wound up on NBC’s The Today Show and ABC’s Nightline and even scored a $50,000 investment from Y Combinator founder Paul Graham.
In time, users began to complain about the lack of drama and action broadcasted on Kan’s show. Instead, they kept asking how they create and broadcast their own live videos on the platform.
Months later, in October 2007, Justin.tv opened up to other broadcasters. It became an instant hit with people all around the world. A year into operation, Justin.tv hosted over 30,000 broadcasting channels.
By 2010, the team had raised $7.2 million in venture capital and was getting around 31 million unique visitors per month. Around that time, the company started working on two other side projects to expand on the Justin.tv network.
One venture, a Justin.tv mobile project led by Michael Seibel, would spin off into an Instagram-for-video startup named Socialcam, which Autodesk acquired for $60 million in 2012.
The other project, with a task force led by Shear, was aimed at growing the user base for video content. That project would later become its own platform: a website named TwitchTV.
In the meantime, Kan went on to venture out on his own, while serving Twitch as a board member. In 2012, he founded a service out-sourcing platform called Exec, which he later sold to Handybook. After the sale, he joined Y Combinator as a partner in 2014. Three years later, in 2017, he started a full-service corporate law firm for high-growth companies named Atrium, in which he serves as the CEO to date.
Meanwhile, Twitch was hitting on all cylinders. Within two years of operation, it had eclipsed its predecessor’s user count. For 2013, the company counted over 45 million viewers, 600 million created videos, and 12 billion minutes viewed per month.
The continued success culminated in the company’s acquisition by Amazon in 2014. The e-commerce giant paid a whopping $970 million in cash to acquire a 100 percent stake in the company.
That same year, Justin.tv closed its doors indefinitely. The team cited much higher user engagement and growth numbers as the reason to focus their efforts on Twitch and abandon Justin.tv altogether. Furthermore, by that time, Kan (who the company was originally named after) was already two years removed from active work in the company.
In the years to come, Twitch continued to add features as well as users to its platform. Over 140 people tune into Twitch streams every month, consuming over 10 billion hours’ worth of content every year.
How Does Twitch Make Money?
The Twitch platform is free-of-charge to both streamers as well as video consumers. More advanced features can be unlocked by paying a premium. As such, Twitch operates on a freemium model.
The freemium model helps them to attract and retain users at a much more rapid pace. Moreover, Twitch user demographic is primarily comprised of teenagers and young adults who tend to have little spending power.
Nevertheless, with projected annual revenues of about $500 million, there are plenty of income streams that Twitch managed to carve out over the past few years. Being within the Amazon ecosystem helps them to create additional opportunities for sales.
The following chapter will take a closer look at each of the ways that Twitch makes money nowadays.
Users on Twitch can subscribe to a channel to show their support for the content creator. The subscription model is divided into three tiers, which come in at $4.99, $9.99, and $24.99 per month.
Next to the delight of financially supporting the streamer, Twitch subscriptions offer an array of other benefits. These entail things such as:
- Ad-free content
- Access to streamer-specific emojis that are only available for subscribers of that channel
- Subscriber badges, which are special icons which show alongside a subscriber’s username within the respective channel’s chat room
- Exclusive chatrooms only available to subscribers
- Access to subscriber-only competitions hosted by the streamer
… and many more. Twitch makes money through a revenue-share agreement with the content creator. More precisely, Twitch takes a 50 percent cut of every subscription it can sell through its platform.
Twitch has been known to decrease the cut it takes for the more popular streamers on the platform. Some of them are able to retain anywhere between 60 to 100 percent of the subscription revenue, which in turn encourages them to stay on the platform.
Bits (also called Cheer Bits) are the platform’s internal currency which viewers can use to cheer on and support the streamer.
When you ‘cheer’, your message in the chat will be shown as an animated emote — the more Bits you utilize, the more noticeable the emote becomes.
Bits can be bought on the Twitch platform. Different price packages are available, ranging from 100 (equal to $1.40) to 25,000 bits (= $308).
Like the subscription model, the creator will receive a portion of the revenue for every bit that he receives. The creator takes home around 60 to 80 percent of the Bits revenue.
The actual percentage depends on a multitude of factors, including the number of Bits received, the creator’s popularity, geography, and many more.
According to Statista, the average Twitch user is 21 years of age. This age group has naturally a smaller disposable income compared to their older counterparts. Consequently, many users are not even able to pay for any premium features available on Twitch.
Twitch has enabled video ads on their pre-recorded videos and live streams to combat the lack of monetization it has with its free users.
Streamers are paid based on their CPM (Cost Per Mile) performance, which is the amount an advertiser pays a content creator per one thousand visitors who see his/her advertisements.
Twitch would first negotiate ad deals with the advertisers (e.g. Nike, Nintendo, or any other company willing to advertise). The content creator then receives a portion of that advertising pool depending on his CPM performance. Twitch takes home the rest.
Twitch designs a personalized contract with each content creator specifying their personal rates and incentives. It furthermore contains a confidentiality clause, making it tricky to determine the exact volumes that streamers make from advertising.
Content creators can determine when exactly they want to play the video ads. The most common are pre-roll (before the video/stream starts) and mid-roll (in the middle of the video/stream) ads.
CPM prices are highly seasonal, and the pay-out can vary significantly depending on the time of the year (ranging anywhere from $2 to $10 per 10000 views). Traditionally, June, October, November, and December tend to be the months when advertisers pay the most for the ad spots.
The merchandise section is where the partnership with Amazon really comes into full display. Launched in October 2017, fans of the platform can buy Twitch-branded merchandise via the Amazon store.
The merchandise is an Amazon-exclusive, meaning it can only be bought on Amazon and nowhere else. Because of the (extreme) fandom that many of the platform’s users display, merchandise can be sold at higher margins.
Furthermore, payment and shipping execution is handled by Amazon itself. In case the user is subscribed to Amazon Prime, the purchase is often just a few clicks away.
Next to clothes, customers can also buy gift cards or even accessories for their dogs. Twitch merch is essentially available in any country that Amazon operates in and sells to.
Twitch Funding, Valuation & Revenue
According to Crunchbase, Twitch has raised a total of $35 million in three rounds of venture capital funding. Investors into the company included the likes of Thrive Capital, Bessemer Venture Partners, Y Combinator, Draper Associates, and many more.
The last time Twitch’s valuation was made public was when the company was acquired by Amazon in 2014 – for a whopping $970 million in an all-cash deal. Wall Street analysts have estimated that the company’s valuation rose to about $3.8 billion five years after its acquisition.
As far as revenue is concerned, the company seems to be having a hard time hitting its targets. A report by The Information stated that Twitch brought in about $230 million in revenue while mid-year projections suggest $300 million for the year 2019.
Meanwhile, the company’s goal for 2019 was to hit between $500 million-$600 million in 2019, with the service eventually hitting $1 billion. Nevertheless, with a 73 percent market share according to StreamElements, Twitch still remains the leader in the game streaming segment.