Did YouTube, Twitch Coverage of E3 Show Where TV Is Headed?

Overlooked in the noise and flash of the recent E3 Expo conference was a revelation that had little to do with the video game industry directly. Rather, it was the live online video coverage of the conference by YouTube, Twitch, and other sites.

The cable TV-sized audiences attracted by these services suggests that big changes are just ahead in how we watch “TV,” what actually counts as “TV,” and where we find it. Equally important: the ability to attract big advertisers to sponsor the streams is changing fast too.

YouTube, which just celebrated its 10th birthday, launched a splashy live channel within its site to cover all things E3, including all the pre-conference news briefings by the big console makers and game publishers. Importantly, YouTube’s video streams were rock steady, even on a relatively slow broadband connection. That high quality is a contrast with years past, when the online streams provided directly by even big companies, such as Microsoft and Sony, often choked under the crush of would-be viewers.

And between the big briefings, Spike TV veterans Geoff Keighley and Rooster Teeth hosted a slick talk show format featuring industry notables, developers, journalists, bloggers, and others talking about the day’s announcements. The resulting audience numbers were truly eye-popping.

According to TubeFilter, the streams attracted some 8 million viewers over its first 12 hours. Viewers watched some 2 million hours of programming during that long day and left more than 500,000 comments. That’s some serious audience engagement.

YouTube said the viewership peaked when EA showed off multiplayer gameplay for its much anticipated Star Wars Battlefront title, due later this year. That peak: 450,000 concurrent viewers.

YouTube also locked up notable advertisers, including sponsorship of the entire webcast by the upcoming Ben Kingsley and Ryan Reynolds movie Self/less, and ads for big game titles such as Batman:Arkham Knight.

Twitch, which specializes in live game-oriented streams and which Google reportedly tried to buy last summer before Amazon swooped in, did even better in terms of peak viewership. All told, the company reported it had handled as many as 840,000 concurrent views during its competing coverage. Following the conference, the company said more than 21 million people tuned in for some portion of its E3 programming.

Those basic-cable numbers were achieved, even though neither Twitch nor YouTube had exclusive rights to cover the conference. And they benefited from the live, evanescent nature of the coverage around a big event such as E3. That’s why award shows, sports, and reality competitions do so well on social media and in Nielsen ratings: there is a watch-it-now compulsion that’s tough to beat. But the shift to online video viewing, both live and otherwise, is undeniable.

YouTube is already in a battle with Facebook over online video audiences. Facebook only made native video streams possible on its site late last year. Since then, views on Facebook have shot up quickly. A just released study by Ampere Analytics says Facebook had 315 billion video views in the first quarter of 2015.That’s up from 77 billion views two quarters earlier, but still less than half of YouTube’s 756 billion video views in the same period. All together, that’s nearly 1.1 trillion online video views just in the first quarter of 2015.

And viewers aren’t going to be watching online video with only the big boys. Any company creating content needs to figure out a video distribution strategy that helps it tell its story and places to put that video, such as on an app the company controls. Big corporations such as Marriott, Red Bull, and Pepsi have their own video production units. More are surely on the way, as companies decide to create and control their own programming, rather than finance someone else’s.

Will these services become the next “TV,” supplanting traditional definitions of the business, at least in niches such as the game business? And importantly, will they end up siphoning away advertising too? It will be worth watching closely to see what happens between now and E3 2016. The business is moving that fast.

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