What Happened To Justin.tv? Why Was It Shut Down?

Executive Summary:

Justin.tv was an online video streaming platform that allowed anyone to broadcast live videos of themselves.

Justin.tv was shut down because its parent company Twitch had been acquired by Amazon and overtook it in traffic.

What Is Justin.tv?

Justin.tv was an online video streaming platform that allowed anyone to broadcast live videos of themselves.

The site initially started out as a website that enabled users to ‘livecast’ their daily lives using webcams and other types of video cameras.

In fact, that’s how the service received its name. Co-founder Justin Kan introduced the platform by livestreaming himself and his life 24/7.

It eventually evolved into a live-streaming service that hosted over 60 different channels on topics such as gaming, sports, music, and more.

Anyone that possessed an account, whether by using one’s email or social handles such as Facebook, as well as the necessary hardware could broadcast themselves.

Justin.tv, furthermore, worked together with a variety of media companies, such as FOX, to launch channels featuring their own content.

Users could communicate with each other and comment on the content within the channels.

After building up an unprecedented amount of hype, Justin.tv was eventually shut down in August 2014. How it came to be, who was behind it, and what ultimately led to its closure will be covered in the next two chapters.

What Happened To Justin.tv?

Justin.tv, formerly headquartered in San Francisco, was founded in 2007 by Justin Kan, Emmett Shear, Michael Seibel, and Kyle Vogt.

Its story, however, starts much earlier than that. Kan, Shear, and Seibel all became friends while studying at Yale University.

Kan, whose parents are business owners themselves, always had an itch to start his own venture. His first go at launching one came in early 2005 when he created a charity calendar featuring quasi-naked men from Yale (including himself obviously).

Together with Shear, he doubled down on the calendar idea during his senior year in the summer of 2005. They created a digital calendar web application that could be integrated with other email services such as the newly launched Gmail.

A mutual friend of Kan’s eventually introduced him to Paul Graham, the founder of startup accelerator Y Combinator. At the time, Graham was emailing students from the country’s most reputative computer science departments and told them that he was seeking to fund technology startups for the first batch of his accelerator.

Kan and Shear eventually managed to convince Graham to accept them into the batch. Furthermore, Y Combinator invested $12,000 into their burgeoning startup. Weeks later, in August 2005, the two released their calendar app called Kiko.

The app did quite well, which allowed Kan and Shear to raise another $50,000 from investors. A second version of the app was launched a little over a year after the initial launch – and unfortunately became the last major update they ever rolled out.

Not long after, Google released its Calendar app, which essentially made Kiko redundant. Realizing that their business was essentially kaput, Kan and Shear threw a last Hail Mary to at least return the money their investors had put in.

They decided to list Kiko on eBay for a starting price of $50,000. For the majority of the auction’s duration, nothing really happened.

Then, on its last days, bids suddenly came rolling in. In the end, the two managed to sell the app for $258,000 – enough to pay back their investors while leaving a bit of cash for themselves. Interestingly enough, Kiko became only the second business to sell on eBay at that point.

This impressed Graham and the Y Combinator guys to the point that they asked Kan and Shear whether they had any other ideas they could invest in. Coincidentally enough, they did.

Months prior to the Kiko sale, which took place in August 2006, a video streaming site called YouTube had been unveiled to the public. It immediately attracted millions of interested viewers. Kan and Shear wanted to put a twist on the concept by allowing anyone to create their own livecast.

In order to get the business off the ground, they recruited their friend Seibel, who had some experience doing political fundraising and was in between jobs, to join them and see if he wanted to stick around.

The trio moved into a tiny two-bedroom apartment in San Francisco’s North Beach, which was populated by other Y Combinator grads such as Reddit’s Steve Huffman or Dropbox’s Drew Houston. Not long after, they convinced Kyle Vogt, who just finished his Junior year at MIT, to drop out and join them.

However, there were some major hurdles getting their business off the ground. For once, hosting and uploading videos onto the web was still an extremely costly endeavor. On top of that, phones did not possess cameras and simply weren’t able to connect to the internet.

Luckily, Vogt soon found a workaround to that problem. He used an analog camera, hooked it to a computer that was ultimately connected to the internet (using Sprint’s 3G mobile network). The business itself was funded via Y Combinator once again, which provided them with a little more cash this time around.

Additionally, the team also created a solution, using Amazon EC2, to bring down the cost of streaming one hour of content per user from $0.36 to less than a penny per user per hour.

So, on March 19th, 2007, after months of hard work, the team finally unveiled Justin.tv to the public. Initially, only Justin Kan was able to livestream himself while other users could comment on his life via its public chat room.

The site, due to its unconventional approach, took off like wildfire. Thousands of people would simply tune in out of curiosity to see what Kan was up to.

Some of them also liked to mess with him. Four days after the site’s launch, police raided the team’s apartment after viewers had reported that an alleged stabbing took place in their apartment. The next day, someone else reported a fire at the apartment, which led six fire trucks to show up.

They also received tons of media coverage along the way. First, Kan and his startup were put on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle. Not long after, he even appeared as a guest on the Today show.

The livecast also captured the more private portions of Kan’s life. He even filmed himself going on a date, bringing home the woman and eventually having sex with her. To not get in trouble with the law, he left the camera outside the bedroom and put it on mute. Meanwhile, his co-founders overdubbed the video stream with audio from a pornographic movie. After he finished his act, Kan even encountered a group of cheering viewers on his way back home.

In order to not burn himself out, Kan also occasionally handed his camera equipment to other people who took over livecasting duties for a day. On May 22nd, the team finally opened up the site to other people keen on starting their own livecast. One of those became an attractive female web designer from Pittsburgh who called herself iJustine and eventually became an extremely successful YouTube star.

Unfortunately, people soon stopped consuming the content. For Kan, it was simply too hard to keep up with creating engaging new material. In fact, most of the time he would simply be seen sleeping in his bed.

As a result, the founders decided to undergo a pivot away from livecasting towards livestreaming different types of content. In order to finance the pivot, they raised $8 million from Alsop Louie Partners and Felicis Ventures.

In October, that rebranded platform went live. The team even convinced the Jonas Brothers to host a livestream to celebrate the relaunch, which brought in more than 80,000 viewers. Half a year later, in March 2008, Justin.tv expanded its platform from web streaming towards enabling anyone with a mobile phone to start a stream.

Soon, the platform would generate tens of millions of monthly pageviews while users created tens of thousands of channels. However, not all of these streams would be kosher. For example, in June, one of the streams was able to capture an apartment robbery after a user managed to accidentally catch his neighbor robbing his apartment.

That, though, wasn’t even Justin.tv’s biggest issue. Part of the reason why its revamped platform rose to quick prominence (it reached 1 million registered users in July 2008) was the fact that many of its streams were displaying copyrighted material such as NFL games, movies, and more.

While the team made sure to create means of taking those channels off, for example by allowing users to file take-down requests, the sheer number of illegal channels was simply too hard to keep up with. Platforms like Napster and LimeWire all suffered fatal blows as a result of their inability to police content, so the team needed to find a way to eventually make it work.

Additionally, Justin.tv was still not generating revenue and essentially living off of its funding. That, however, changed in September when the platform introduced sponsored channels in partnership with other advertisers. Its first advertiser became Amazon-backed e-commerce company The Talk Market, which began to issue 1-hour broadcasts.

The product also continued to be refined. In November, for example, Justin.tv enabled the broadcasting of high-resolution videos using H.264 encoding.

Unfortunately, that same month the company had to face one of its biggest tragedies. Abraham K. Biggs, a 19-year-old Floridian, committed suicide while live-broadcasting himself on the platform. Although viewers immediately alerted the police, it unfortunately was too late for him to be saved.

Despite the tragic incident, Justin.tv continued to grow like gangbusters. By March 2009, the platform had managed to attract more than 20 million unique monthly visitors. The small team continued to innovate at a rapid pace, for example by releasing integrations with the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and Myspace or adding digital video recording (DVR) functionalities.

Interestingly enough, the team also began to utilize its engineering chops by churning out new side projects. The first one of its kind became Camtweet, which enabled users to send out live video feeds to Twitter. Simultaneously, it unveiled Live by Justin TV, a dedicated Facebook app allowing users to share their live videos on Facebook.

Meanwhile, Justin.tv continued its fight against malicious actors. In August 2009, it secured a partnership with Vobile, which helped it to programmatically scan content on the platform to check for copyright violations. Media conglomerate FOX was part of that deal as well and agreed to not pursue any legal action against the platform.

Unfortunately, those initiatives weren’t enough to appease regulators. In December 2009, CEO Seibel was called to testify in front of a House Judiciary Committee hearing on sports piracy. Its competitors, such as Livestream, began to publicly call out Justin.tv and claimed the company wasn’t doing enough to combat the broadcasting of copyrighted content.

The team, to help it deal with those issues, hired Eric Goldman, director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clare University, as an external advisor. One of the first issues on his plate was a subpoena issued by the UFC which wanted to receive the IP addresses of the streamers that issued those illegal broadcasts.

Those illegal streams as well as Justin.tv’s growth was amplified by the release of its iPhone and Android apps in March and April 2010, respectively. Within a few weeks, the company managed to amass over two million downloads of its app.

Despite the fact that even YouTube entered the livestreaming game in late 2010 (and other competitors like Ustream raising tens of millions in funding), Justin.tv continued to grow at a steady rate. This was even more impressive given that had various key execs, such as its VP of Marketing or VP of Business Development, depart its business.

In the meantime, Justin.tv also continued to face legal issues. In January 2011, the UFC filed a lawsuit against the platform due to its ongoing failure of taking down illegal livestreams. During the midst of all those legal issues, the team continued to churn out new projects as well.

Justin.tv, in February, unveiled Socialcam, a photo and video sharing app that offered some striking similarities to platforms like Instagram. A year later, Socialcam, led by Seibel, was acquired by Autodesk for a whopping $60 million (a mere two months after Facebook churned out $1 billion for Instagram).  

While Socialcam was a great success by itself, another project would ultimately catapult Justin.tv and its founders to Silicon Valley stardom. On June 6th, 2011, the team unveiled a separate livestreaming platform for gamers. Its name? Twitch.  

There was a multitude of reasons as to why the team launched Twitch. For once, livestreaming gameplay removed almost all concerns of copyright issues since studios don’t have claims over material created by players.

On top of that, those studios were much more open towards working together with Twitch and the Justin.tv team, for example by sponsoring e-sports events. Lastly, a significant portion of Justin.tv users were already consuming livestreamed gameplay, so the team knew that there could be demand for a separate platform.

Their successes even prompted LA-based production company Riche Productions to purchase the rights to the story of the founding of Justin.tv. The plan, which unfortunately never materialized, was to create a similar movie to The Social Network, which detailed the early days of Facebook.

Within a few months of the launch, Twitch was already capturing over one billion minutes of viewed content. It was partially piggybacking on the success of content networks such as Machinima, which greatly accelerated the interest in gameplay-related content.

Meanwhile, co-founder Kan decided to depart from Justin.tv towards the end of 2011 to pursue other entrepreneurial endeavors. In early 2012, he co-founded Exec, a TaskRabbit-like service platform, which he sold to Handy in 2014.

The overwhelming success of Twitch eventually led the team to focus almost all of their efforts on the gameplay streaming platform. In February 2014, Twitch became so big that it ended up ‘swallowing’ Justin.tv under a new corporate structure called Twitch Interactive.

Three months later, in May, the team announced that it would get rid of all of its archived content for Justin.tv. Weeks prior, rumors began circulating that YouTube was eyeing to acquire Twitch. Reporters began to speculate that Justin.tv’s execs simply wanted to get their operational cost in check to beef up their numbers and make themselves a more attractive acquisition target.

Then, on August 5th, 2014, the last proverbial nail was hammered into Justin.tv’s coffin. Co-founders Kan and Shear announced that they would shut down the service in the next month. Twenty days later, on August 25th, Amazon disclosed that it would be acquiring Twitch Interactive for a whopping $970 million. Today, Twitch is synonymous with livestreaming and by far the most dominant platform in its space.

Interestingly enough, co-founder Kan tried to partially revitalize Justin.tv two years later. In February 2016, he posted a job advertisement for a media relations executive who would help him recreate the Justin.tv experience on Snapchat.

While Justin.tv never became the livestreaming powerhouse it hoped to be, it nevertheless led to the creation of other very successful and meaningful businesses.

Why Was Justin.tv Shut Down?

Justin.tv was shut down because its parent company Twitch had been acquired by Amazon and overtook it in traffic.

Amazon, in all likeliness, did not want to continue running a platform that was in decline and costly to operate.

One of the indications towards that sentiment was the takedown of Justin.tv’s archived videos, which weren’t generating any views but still costing the company money.

On top of that, Justin.tv continued to face issues with regards to illegal livestreams, which could result in additional legal troubles as well as incur added cost in terms of moderation.

Amazon, being a world-leading brand itself, simply cannot afford to be associated with a web property that’s synonymous with copyright infringements and related issues.

Hi folks, Viktor checking in! Years of experience in various tech-related roles have led me to start this blog, which I hope provides you with as much enjoyment to read as I have writing the content.