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Impact of COVID-19 on Live Streams, and the Accelerated Outlook

Player Tries To Master The Newly Released Grand Theft Auto IV
Player Tries To Master The Newly Released Grand Theft Auto IV / Cate Gillon/Getty Images

Think of creating an interactive experience for people that is authentic in its purest form. The highs, the lows, and everything in between that encompass creating something truly spectacular. Now take that product and expand it, and let part of the product be the process of creation. The product evolves live, because it’s produced live. 

If this mindset isn’t part of your content development strategy, you may be missing out on reaching millions of potential viewers. Thanks to the pandemic and the global quarantine brought on by COVID-19, the demand for Live Streaming content is higher than it has ever been with no signs of slowing down.

Impact of COVID-19 on Live Streams, and the Accelerated Outlook

When we talk about live streaming, we are not talking about services through Netflix or Hulu, although they’ve been a warm welcome in this cold climate of quarantining. Instead, we’re talking about live performances put on by content creators through services like Twitch, YouTube, and Facebook.

“Live streaming has definitely grown a lot over the last year, year and a half, and I definitely think the pandemic accelerated it,” said Stephen “Snoopeh” Ellis in an interview with DBLTAP. “We have a lot of people at home, a lot of people really craving connection and live content is one of the best ways to connect with other people.”

Impact of COVID-19 on Live Streams, and the Accelerated Outlook
Stephen "Snoopeh" Ellis

Snoopeh is a former professional League of Legends player, co-founder of Pipeline, and a seasoned content creator performing for millions of people globally over the past decade. He is also a co-founder and co-host of the Becoming a Streamer Podcast and State of Streaming live discussion by Pipeline, an organization that provides a roadmap for up-and-coming content creators seeking guidance. The organization is built upon the information that he and fellow decade-long content creator David “StoneMountain64” Steinberg have accumulated. 

“Not necessarily like [the pandemic] is propping it up, and as soon as everything is back to normal all the numbers are going to plummet. I think it’s just introduced people to a medium that’s really exciting, really interacting, and really engaging. And people are falling in love with live.”

A report released by StreamElements and Rainmaker.gg showcased that from Feb of 2020 to 2021, Twitch grew 82 percent in hours watched, translating from slightly more than a billion hours watched to 1.86 billion watched. Facebook Gaming saw a substantial increase as well, jumping from 193 million hours watched to 345 million.

“We all know what live news is and live sports and it’s all very one directional. The cool thing about live streaming is that it’s very interactive in its nature and you can connect with other people while you’re watching,” Snoopeh said. “That’s really unique and I think there’s a whole wave of people older and younger that are just getting into a medium that we all knew about who are just getting into it for the first time.”

Historically speaking, anyone who would have heard the term live stream would have thought of video games. Contrarily, in the month of Feb. 2021, the most popular streaming category to watch on Twitch was “Just Chatting” at over 235 million hours watched. For those unfamiliar, think of categories on Twitch, Facebook Gaming, or YouTube as different “channels” on a television. The content creators would be the particular show you enjoy watching within that channel.

Snoopeh continued, “I don’t think it’s going away. I think it’s going to continue to grow from
strength to strength over the next few years.”

CCV, Max Viewers, Total Hours Watched

Live content is unique in its measurement of success, primarily because the metrics focus on CCV (concurrent viewership), max viewers at a given time, and the total amount of time watched. While unique viewers still measure the amount of reach that live content extends to, it’s not a number that determines the value or impact of this kind of content. That’s because the demand for live content creators has been here for years, and people have been searching for quality live experiences.

“The pandemic has really accelerated the amount of demand so now there are a lot more viewers than there was in the past,” Snoopeh told DBLTAP. “Yes, the supply of creators is going up as well, but there is a lot more demand and the platforms themselves. The Twitches and YouTubes of the world are getting better themselves at making that live content discoverable.”

In what she can only describe as the “perfect storm” of discoverability, Katelyn “Sparkling Sprite” Miller is a Facebook Gaming Partner, whose content reaches more than 415K viewers across multiple social media platforms. Reaching this level of viewership is not something that is easily done. It takes time and dedication to one’s practice, but Sprite managed to launch her live content in February of 2020, going full-time later in April of that year.

Impact of COVID-19 on Live Streams, and the Accelerated Outlook
Katelyn "Sparkling Sprite" Miller

“In order to be successful in streaming you have to be consistent, you have to put out content, good content, you have to be likable, and you have to enjoy your content,” Sprite told DBLTAP. “It was the perfect timing because when COVID hit everyone was home, and there wasn’t much to do.”

She continued, “People flocked to Facebook and their social media, and that’s where I was so I think that really helped me grow. I don’t think it was all one thing, like it was just the pandemic or it was just my consistency. I think it was the perfect storm and it just happened at the right time.”

For many growing and full-time content creators like Sprite, the data collected by Twitch supports the trend of growing demand in viewership for live streaming. For example, the all-time viewership peak on Twitch didn’t happen in the heart of the pandemic. It happened in January of 2021, reaching just more than 6.5 million viewers using the platform at that time. 

At this time, the highest max viewership at a given time on Twitch has reached 5.8 million viewers, but that’s not the best of it. April 2021 has, so far, seen the highest amount of average viewers on Twitch breaking the 3 million mark for the first time. “There are more opportunities to have a shot because of this increased demand that has been accelerated by the pandemic,” Snoopeh said.

While we don’t have the same data available for YouTube Gaming and Facebook Gaming, it’s safe to say that comparable growth is happening on both platforms. Managing Director of Gaming and Commerce at YouTube Ryan Watt reported at the end of 2020, YouTube Gaming contributed more than 10 billion hours watched to the platform’s 100 billion hours watched. Additionally, he tweeted, that “gaming on YouTube has doubled in size in just two years.”

Even though a platform like YouTube primarily produces VOD (video on demand) content, successful live content creation requires a lot of dedication to be in the moment. “I would say 75 percent of the time I create live content, and 25 percent of the time it’s external,” said Sprite.

These increased watched hours, that’s the measurement of the demand. The supply, in turn, is produced accordingly. “You’ve got more medium-size creators than we have had in the past,” said Snoopeh. “There is a better distribution of viewership. As a brand new creator, that would be exciting to me, because I have the opportunity to audition my content to a lot more people.”

Live Streaming Demands

While not every country has the same availability to grow on a particular platform, for example, Facebook Gaming’s partnership program is not available to every global citizen at this time, the principle for growing a brand remains the same. Among the many challenges that live content creators face, being there, in the moment, remains the toughest of them all.

The ability to get their content across can be hindered by a number of factors such as timeliness, but overcoming weaknesses by building their brand with their community needs to be a strength.

“You need to be relatable,” Sprite told DBLTAP. “Don’t make something that is unachievable to the viewer. You can’t make it look perfect. If you’re going to post about the behind scenes, you should have issues that most business owners deal with. Show things that are relatable to people, because people are going to be more trusting in the brand.”

The brands affected by live content creation extend beyond those interested in a video game niche as well. Content creation is a marketing tool that can complement one’s message. Delivered with precision, live streaming is a sharp tool for those beyond the gaming space. Gaming itself is only a medium, chosen often because of its competitive and entertainment nature. As we’ve seen with Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, using a live streaming platform to address larger issues is a very powerful tool - especially when it’s executed correctly.

“We’re already starting to see that some of the most innovative people in those spaces that are maybe more digitally native have already been doing things like this,” said Snoopeh.

He continued, “I think what’s interesting is seeing during the pandemic, or during the election, seeing someone like AOC and it wasn’t weird. Having a politician being involved on Twitch sounds like it could be weird but she was from that and she is a gamer. She’s authentically a gamer, and Twitch is a community that really embraced her and resonated with her message and they had a great time with Among Us, while talking about things that really matter in the country.”

What Creators Should be Aware of

Content creators who are engaging their audiences on both live and traditional forms of media are beating out those who fall short on either front. “Even if you’re just a content creator or politician you have to have a variety of ways of getting your message out, and live can’t be the only way,” said Snoopeh, “but I think live is still a very powerful medium because it’s real-time, a way to engage, a way to get feedback, a way to incorporate the community.

“A complex topic is hard to summarize in 160 characters. But it’s a very effective way to get a point across. Live you can go into some more of the nuances, but it’s not accessible for everyone. This is why I think it’s a multi-platform approach to get your message out there. And we’re seeing it. Every politician is doing it. Especially the ones that are more forward-thinking are doing it, on both sides of the perspective.”

Putting out content is not enough. As any good brand and creator will know, quality is more important when it comes to live content creation.

“Be aware of the quality of the content you’re putting out. Be engaging within your community. It’s a give and take,” said Sprite. “As much as you want your community to be there for you, you want to be there for them. Reply to comments on posts. That’s when lasting connections are made.”

Perhaps most importantly, the best way anyone succeeded with producing live content is by learning through mistakes. One of the hardest things live content creators face is balancing the production of polished with real-time mistakes and fixes. It has to be real and authentic creation, on all fronts.

“For all these folks that are old companies or traditional institutions that are starting to tap into this medium, they’re going to screw it up. The best ones are going to learn from those screw-ups and get better and better,” said Snoopeh

Development Strategy

As there continues to be more reported data in support of live content creation, it’s important for creators and brands alike to know that not all live content needs to be content. Sometimes, the live process involves utilizing the community, stakeholders, and constituents for guided feedback. Pull back the curtain of working in secrecy, and create something that is wanted. 

Fortunately, Snoopeh shared with DBLTAP what it is that Pipeline does in the live creative space that shows their innovative thought process, and how they take the time to work with their stakeholders and customers live to shape their product:

“I think about what we do with Pipeline as a business. We have a team, we have a product, but one of the things that we’re exploring doing is what I’d call a “Town Hall.” Every month, or every other month, we want to create a space to talk about what we’re thinking about, what we’re doing, and answer questions from the community to help us shape the future of the product.

of“When I think about us, that’s what we’re thinking and I could see other business leaders doing the same thing. There are huge fans of various different products, and how cool would it be if you could get insights directly from the person at the top or one of the decision-makers at these companies?

“If you could ask why did you make that call, or what are you building, what’s coming up? What can I get excited about? This is very common in marketing right, where people will tease things. But how cool would it be if you could just lift the curtains and just start to ask those questions directly?

Some of the best companies in the world today do this. Not these long development cycles where nothing has happened for a year, then suddenly boom we’ve got this thing. I think your customers should be your ambassadors, and the people that you want to shape what you’re building.” 

Live interaction and feedback is exactly what has helped propel Sprite’s rise in live content creation over the past year. “You should listen to feedback from your community,” she said. “You want your community to be based on you and your content. Sometimes what is best is going to be what your community wants.”

Content Creation Final Thoughts

“For anyone who approaches live streaming it can be really intimidating, whether you’re a brand or company,” cautioned Snoopeh. “I would encourage new or established creators and brands to be experimenting and open to experimenting, and being willing to get it wrong. Just get started. It is a fantastic medium, and I highly encourage anyone, whether you’re an individual or a brand, to build a live strategy.”

An opportunity has presented itself through a global pandemic. The growing data continues to show that live content will be in demand long after COVID-19 is beyond us. The only thing to figure out is deciding how your supply will adapt to the demand.