Pandemic Boosts Livestream Sector

Credit: GP_TV
The women of Girls Play TV, posing in the grass with their logo.

An increase in people watching content livestreamed over the internet has caught the attention of advertisers seeking new audiences. 

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As any fan of horror knows, there is a big difference between watching a scary movie alone versus in a crowded theater. The collective screams and gasps of “Don’t go in there!” make everyone feel like part of the group. The communal entertainment experience is one that many are missing out on during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a need that streamers of Twitch, a livestreaming platform, have stepped in to fill. 

Twitch, which has become a well-known platform for people who livestream video games and other live content, has seen remarkable growth as a result of COVID-19. Average Twitch viewership has nearly doubled, from about 1.3 million concurrent average viewers in January to 2.5 million in April, according to their official statistics.  

For Twitch streamers, the surge in viewers has meant more revenue and opportunities to expand. For companies, Twitch represents the latest way to advertise as consumers find more of their entertainment online. 

Girls Play TV (GP_TV), a Portland-based Twitch channel, began in 2013 when a group of Target employees with theater degrees decided to turn online performance into a career. 

The women of Girls Play TV. From left to right: Sydney Blum, Skyler Walters, Natalie Doerfler, Niki Buckno, Alicia, Belladina Starr (orange hair), Maddie Valish (blue hair). Liv Hollaway (back). 

“The idea was, ‘What was taking off on the internet?’ Group channels were taking off, video games were taking off, and there really wasn’t a channel that had more than two girls gaming,” says Belladina Starr, a performer on GP_TV. 

“I think what’s different about us is that we’re six girls playing video games. There are a lot of streamers who go solo, but with us you get that feeling of hanging out with a group of friends,” says Maddie Valish, another performer. 

Every day on the channel, fans tune in to watch a live feed of the women as they play video games. Viewers see not only the video game, but also the reactions of the performer. 

In addition to video games, the women create unique content, such as make-up demonstrations. Other times they compete in game show-style challenges, including seeing who can last the longest in a hot tub full of expanding Orbeez, a children’s toy that grows when exposed to water. 

With the onset of the pandemic, GP_TV has seen large growth. The team expected to see a decline in revenue but were surprised when they experienced just the opposite. With more than 60,000 followers, seven of the eight women on GP_TV stream as their full-time job. The group is also seeking to move out of their studio, which shares a wall with two other businesses, and move into their own space.

The popularity of livestreaming is driven by the closure of many entertainment venues. With fewer activities to do outside the house, such as going to the movies or the theater, more people are finding entertainment at home. 

connor ‘Sherpa’ Stites plays at Twitchcon 2017

Another reason Twitch has seen increased popularity is due to celebrity support. New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez livestreamed a video game session with colleague Ilhan Omar to encourage voting in the run-up to the 2020 election. 

Like many online personalities, Twitch streamers are influencers, and are paid by companies to use and review their products. 

Alcohol and energy drink companies are already taking advantage of the exposure granted by online streamers. During the pandemic, GP_TV picked up a partnership with Fireball Whisky. Every Friday while the partnership was active, the women drank Fireball during their stream. Their channel displayed a link that viewers could click on to have Fireball Whisky delivered to their door. 

The surge of Twitch popularity has also caused part-time streamers to rethink their branding and consider going pro. 

Connor Stites, a Portland streamer known as Sherpa to his 12,700 followers, streams a robot ninja fighting game called Warframe. He originally started his channel as a labor of love but the increase in online viewers has made him rethink his brand and develop a new partnership with Warframe’s developers to create content.

Stites usually streams three times a week. It is a part-time gig while he works at Intel. He has streamed more since the pandemic. Stites has branched out into card games and is making a point of letting viewers into his personal life. If more viewers connect with him on a personal level, he believes he can build more followers. He recently proposed to his girlfriend on Twitch while playing card game Magic the Gathering. The video was retweeted by game developer, Wizards of the Coast

“I think people watch me because I’ve been playing the game for a long time,” says Stites. “But I feel like there’s been more branching out happening on Twitch. There’s cooking, there are board games, card games, body painting and music. People think Twitch is just a gaming platform but there’s a lot more to it than that.” 

Marketing agencies have also begun to take notice. Upfluence, a full-service influencer marketing agency, works with companies that want to advertise on Twitch. The agency also works with content creators on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. 

Next-generation influencers like Stites and the women at GP_TV are seeking to innovate as increased popularity has resulted in more competition from other streamers getting into the game. 

Recently the women at GP_TV unofficially broke the world record for the world’s longest single live event, streaming for more than 222 hours straight. One idea the women had to grow their viewership was to wear a portable backpack with a mobile internet connection and recording equipment to stream on the go.

“We are always on the lookout for the next big thing,” says Starr. “We always find new ways to keep things interesting.” 

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