REALITY TV of the future where you control every single move of on-screen stars is finally here.
Let’s say you’re watching a travel show on TV, and as your host wanders down a strange street thousands of miles away, chatting away, you catch a glimpse of something down an alley that looks interesting, but they move on and the moment is lost.
Awkwards Travel Awkwards Travel lets you join in on a round-the-world adventure, rather than just watching it
Now imagine you can point out the mysterious alley to the host, and they then go back to give you a closer look.
You’re now going down that alley with them, and find yourself in the courtyard of temple and marveling with everyone else who’s watching at the prayer flags flutter in the breeze.
This isn’t some vision of the far future — it’s what could happen right now if you happen to tune into one of the travel shows broadcasting on Twitch.tv.
Known for its video game streams, as many people watch Twitch in the UK on any given day as watch all the BT Sport channels combined — and its reach is set to overtake Sky Sports soon if it hasn’t already.
You can watch it right now, for free, via the Twitch.tv website, or use the app to tune in on your phone, on a games consoles or even directly on your TV.
On average, every single person in the UK has watched three hours of content on Twitch this year so far, and that’s growing every day.
Part of the reason for that growth is people watching esports such as Overwatch League or League of Legends championships as professional players compete around the world for prizes in the millions.
But there’s much more to it than that…
‘IT’S ALL ABOUT THE AUDIENCE’
Another part is the growth of live music, travel and cooking shows, to name a few.
Interaction in all these shows is absolutely crucial to their success and their appeal.
“It’s all about the audience,” according to Gaspard Walter, co-host of one of the first and best Twitch travel shows, Awkwards Travel.
Gaspard and fiancée Kristina “Tallulah” Gaudet have turned travelling and producing live shows as they go into a full-time job, and have been going since 2017.
They have 37,000 subscribers and counting, and earn the money to carry on going through a mix of sponsors, advertising and direct contributions from the people watching and interacting as they go.
The pitch for the show is simple; you get to “take part in our crazy adventures and experience travelling as if you were there yourself!”
Awkwards Travel streamer Tallulah terrified as she flies high to give the audience a better view
The pair have visited 20 countries on their show so far, and recently even got engaged live on stream.
There was no question about keeping something as personal as that proposal out of the show, according to Tallulah. “Our fans would have killed us,” she explained while on stage at TwitchCon in Berlin recently.
It’s not just about what the audience wants, though — it’s also about what they provide, and not just in terms of cash.
“Interactivity with the community makes sharing our passion more rewarding,” she says.
Anyone with a camera and a microphone can start their own show, and anyone can tune into it with the click of a button.
Awkwards Travel The joy of everything being live is that things do not always go as planned…
Full-time travel streamers Tallulah and Gaspard invite the world to follow in their footsteps
GIVING THE AUDIENCE A REAL CONNECTION
The number of people watching means making shows and performing here can quickly become a paying full-time job.
Starting a show can be “pretty terrifying” according to British singer Venus, a singer-songwriter who performs on Twitch through her Venusworld channel.
Her first performance was a year ago to three people, two of whom she already knew — and admits during the early days she once set her desk on fire on stream after an accident involving the candles she uses to give her studio a welcoming feel for those watching online.
VenusWorld Venus’s broadcast studio is a haven for her fans, and anyone else who wants to drop by and either join in or just listen to the music
Within three months she had the “life-changing” realisation that after years of making music, it might be enough to fully support herself financially.
Now, a year after starting Venus has 13,000 subscribers she’s been able to fulfil her dream of becoming a full-time musician, streaming three times a week (9pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays) and with albums for sale online.
Venus echoes what Gaspard and Tallulah say about the way Twitch democratises viewing, and how that goes both ways.
“The community is the show”, she says, and “the stream can be improved just by you watching it.”
“There’s an audience now that wants a real connection with the artist themselves,” she told Sun Online.
“When they get that connection, it gives them an even closer relationship to the music.”
Live-streamer Venus performs Before You Go for a live audience on Twitch
This works both ways, with performers able to get instant feedback to improve their performance — and success bringing in cash and sponsorship which can lead to obvious improvements in things as simple as cameras, lights, instruments or anything else.Her show is essentially an interactive gig — and anyone watching can request songs, though donating to the stream helps your chances of being picked.
“I’ve never seen anything more exciting for a musician,” Venus says when talking about that instant feedback and deep connection with the audience.
But it’s also more than that. The show is set up “so it to be always feels like a place you can come and unwind and relax,” she says.
Over time it’s become “a really loving and mutually supportive place to hang out,” as well as a place to listen to great music being made.
VenusWorld The nature of show gives the audience a deeper connection with the music, Venus says
GETTING YOU WHERE THE ACTION IS
There are literally hundreds of shows going at any given time, and many of these can be as much a place to go and hang out as they are traditional shows.
These range from one-woman shows to fully-produced studio broadcasts that can and do seamlessly transfer to TV sports channels.
Twitch’s head of content, Michael Aragon, explained how they’re all important to the future of the site.
While video game content will always be at the core of the site’s offerings, he also wants Twitch to be able to offer “some of the content gamers are probably going off platform for, but would love to watch on Twitch because of the community and the interactivity.”
This is happening with content Twitch is producing itself and shows its working with others, such as the NBA, to bring to the audience.
Twitch.tv The front of the stream directory can be daunting at first, and is still dominated by games
While a traditional TV network might want to keep the viewers for its own shows where it gets to keep all the revenue, Aragon explains that with Twitch it’s the opposite.
“We want to take the audience and we want to push them to the where all the cool action is,” he tells Sun Online.
Key to that is the huge team he has working with individual creators, whether they’re currently broadcasting to an audience of three or three million.
Superstar streamers might get weekly or daily check-ins from his teams to help them with technical issues and sponsorships, while smaller streamers can get support through Creator Camps with advice on how to increase their audience through social media.
But it’s not just about the numbers either.
When streams blow up, sudden fame can be quite overwhelming, especially for younger streamers.
Aragon reveals they have counselors who can offer support to those who need it, as well as being able to put them in touch with other people who have been through the same thing.
“It’s just about being a shoulder to lean on, and making sure they know that they have resources available to them,” he says.
BANS, BOTS AND BIG NAMES
Supporting streamers also comes down to the basics of providing a strong and safe platform for them to perform on.
In an online world that seems dominated by toxicity and aggression, that can be a challenge.
It doesn’t work all the time, as evidenced by some gaming streams where that sort of thing is still seen as just coming with the territory.
However, those streamers who want to create a welcoming and safe environment have the tools to do so.
Tyler ‘Ninja’ Blevins has made millions off the back of streaming Fortnite
“I think it boils down to having a very clear and coherent strategy around acceptable behaviours,” Aragon says, referring to that strategy as his team’s “North Star”.
That “North Star” and clear principles seem to be coming into focus more and more, and applied even to the highest profile of users.
In stark contrast to YouTube’s hands-off approach, Twitch’s terms of service make it clear that popular streamers are “role models and leaders of the communities they create” who need to “consider the consequences of their statements and actions of their audiences”.
They’re not afraid to ban users who step over the mark, whether that’s due to racism, homophobia, misogyny or anything else, no matter the size of their audience.
EDM musician and DJ Deadmau5 was a recent victim of this, being hit with a 30-day ban for the use of a homophobic slur.
AP:Associated Press Arena-filling gaming events often have the same coverage broadcast live on Twitch and on TV at the same time
Other game streamers with followers who number in the hundreds of thousands have also been hit with similar punishments in the past.
It’s not perfect, as offensive content still gets through, and some streams with decidedly unpleasant or unsuitable content emerge and stay up for some time before being shut down.
That is despite there being a small army of human moderators watching over content — both the streams being put out, and viewers’ interactions with those streams.
It can also be a force for good.
One live stream organised recently by a couple of game streamers saw £225,000 raised for charity in one weekend as it went viral across the world.
Things do seem to be heading in the right direction, with changes introduced last year that made policies stricter and enforcement clearer really kicking in.
Twitch.tv Food and cooking shows are one area with a lot of potential in the coming months and years
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As well as the human element, there is an automatic moderation tool that streamers and mods can set up to catch obvious spammers, filter out specific words and phrases and activity they don’t want to see.
This uses machine learning to get better over time, Aragon says, and it’s that combination of technology, human interaction and strict enforcement of their rules that will be key to keeping things going.
If it does keep going, then you might just be seeing the future of TV — where anyone can be a star, every show can be personal, and anything really can happen.
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