Internet stories. Absolut record. He´s done it again. On the night of 11 January 2021, TheGrefg broke all international records on the Twitch platform by reaching more than 2.4 million streams or recurring live connections to announce his custom skin in the Fortnite video game. There will be many people who don´t have a clue what this is about. Others, however, will not only know but will be part of the phenomenon. Whether as content creators or consumers of audiovisual content, they know that in the last two years, the understanding of multimedia entertainment has evolved into a new phase. Everything in it seems new and groundbreaking, but we can find many parallels with television for mass audiences. How much “Sálvame” has taught us in Telecinco and we didn’t realise it. But let’s go in parts.
In 2020 we witnessed a change in the rules of the game. Twitch, the platform owned by Amazon since 2014 and born as a by-product of Justin.tv to be the centre of reference for video game streaming, has denaturalised the term youtuber. Youtubers still exist, but the platform does not make the content creator. Without doubt that is David Cánovas “TheGrefg”. In 2016 it was already quite popular on Google’s audiovisual network, but in the last year it has found its ideal space on Twitch. This is what has happened to caster Ibai Llanos and comedian Ángel Martín, who are two examples of how to take advantage of a context that has rapidly mutated to offer experiences that fit audiences like a glove.
Has the world of entertainment changed as much as it seems? Let us review several points that can help us to better understand the scenario.
1. From asynchronous to live consumption.
Just when it seemed that streaming platforms such as Netflix, HBO or Amazon Prime Video had altered the way in which video content grids are constructed, live broadcasts in environments such as Twitch arrived to change all that. From “I decide what I watch and when I watch it” we are returning to linear consumption, albeit of selected channels. This, which made special sense in the world of video games (watching a game or tournament unfold on the spot), is becoming the growing norm for a user base that, in many cases, grew up not with the experience of conventional television, but with digital environments where they could download or programme what they wanted to watch. Even Netflix has launched Direct, to live stream movies and series. And we have just witnessed the arrival in Spain of Pluto, a platform of channels with linear content. The exceptional, therefore, is what was conventional for millennials and previous generations.
“With live streaming, the exceptional is what was conventional not so long ago”.
The live consumption of more than just games has had its rocket propulsion in the confinement and mobility restriction measures implemented globally because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Spending more time at home online has altered our habits and predisposed us to be open to other routines. Instagram Live was the gateway for many users who now organise themselves to be viewers (on their mobile, on their computer or on their TV via Chromecast) of broadcasts of all kinds that are no longer focused exclusively on video games.
2. Content over content
Although most streamers call themselves “content creators“, they do not correspond to what we have traditionally known as “content creators”. What was once a sub-genre of the YouTube world has become the norm. Unscripted broadcasts. Monologues that you know when they start but not when they end. Reactions to third party content. We are witnessing a stage in which it is key to interact with third-party content – isn’t a video game the direct interaction in the narrative proposed by the platform developer -, to comment on it and to be spontaneous.
“We are witnessing a stage where the key is to interact with third-party content”.
The surprise of the 2020 New Year’s Eve chimes was the success of Ibai broadcasting them on Twitch, reaching more than half a million recurring connections at any given time. Some viewers, not the caster’s regular audience, were disappointed by the pace of the broadcast. For the consumer of formal, scripted content, entertainment was lacking. For the regulars, it was about virtually participating in the lives of a group of characters who are already part of their lives. Entertainment is channelled through accompaniment. But haven’t we seen this before? Yes. Indeed it is.
3. Storytelling without a script: live life.
In April 2000, almost 21 years ago, “Gran Hermano”, the first reality show on Spanish television, premiered in Spain. With little scripting, we witness a group of people locked in a house fighting to be the last ones to be expelled from the house by the audience. There was no prior story, but rather an exposition of characters and a series of narrative twists (trials, fights, spontaneous relationships…) that took the story down unsuspected paths.
In 2020 we began to see how a group of streamers, locked in their homes not only because of the pandemic, but because it is their place of work, interacted with each other and with the audience. They talked to each other, challenged each other, played (a “Fall Guys”, a “Among Us”), They showed us their homes, introduced us to guests (the football players Kun Agüero, Courtois and even Neymar)… Ibai has become the entertainer par excellence of the moment, at the level of Pablo Motos, above Jorge Javier Vázquez. He hosted C. Tangana exclusively to watch with him the video clip of his latest hit (another example of content from content) and interviewed Marc Gasol, recently signed by the Los Angeles Lakers. ElRubius, one of the biggest youtubers in the world, presented in December Egoland, an exclusive server created by Alexby together with Yisus to play Rust, a survival adventure in which some of the most famous streamers in Spain join together in clans. The live experience is repeated as it has been for years on Telecinco. At Telecinco, the different reality shows provide characters and stories that will feed the rest of the channel’s content for years to come. On streaming platforms, youtubers and twitchers make crossovers: they visit each other, interact and reinforce an ecosystem in which, by the way, there are common links. Many of the big players in the phenomenon are represented by Vizz, Webedia’s digital talent representation company, which also designs brand experiences through NOOB, its creative agency. The spontaneous is also planned.
“On streaming platforms, youtubers and twitchers perform crossovers”.
4. Monetise comments.
One of the big changes in recent years is the evolution of the business generation model. The monetisation of advertising embedded in multimedia content is already only a part of the pie, albeit a very important one. Streamers on Twitch have an affiliate programme that allows them, without the need for large communities, to charge monthly subscriptions in exchange for exclusive content and features. On YouTube, content creators opt for platforms such as Patreon to activate these kinds of goodies or exclusive benefits. OnlyFans is another alternative, although it has become more popular for adult content. And what is the most unique benefit to the subscriber? Above all, the possibility of commenting with privileges: emoticons, different reactions from the rest and the ability to make your comments stand out from those of non-subscribers. This is especially important when it is these conversation spaces that often act as an improvised script, setting the direction of the broadcast.
“Live commentary often acts as an improvised script”.
5. It´s the technology, stupid.
None of this would be understood without a technological infrastructure that redefines the world of entertainment. Amazon’s purchase of Twitch was no accident: an exponentially growing multimedia environment needs cloud servers to host streams, and Amazon Web Services (AWS) has them. Parler, the social network created by the US far-right, has seen its existence compromised precisely when AWS decided to withdraw its service and leave the platform without infrastructure.
The possibility of enabling private servers is favouring the enjoyment of services, such as games, among closed communities of users who pay for exclusivity. This has also made possible the revival of VoIP software solutions for communication. Discord, a free solution for enabling multimedia chat rooms, is the ideal technical complement to many Twitch channels.
The transmedia story continues. It is energised on Twitter, streamed on Twitch, remembered on YouTube and immortalised on Instagram. Brands seem to have lost their space, but this is not the case. The difference is that their messages are spoken by real people rather than through corporate channels. But that is best left for a future post.