Twitch, Amazon's live streaming platform for video game-related content, is looking to expand past its gaming roots. The online video portal is extending a warm welcome to all marketers interested in reaching its dedicated gamer audience, regardless if they're comfortable with a controller or not.
"One of the core principles of Twitch is experimentation," said Matthew DiPietro, vice president of marketing at Twitch. "You have an idea. Give it a shot, get the data. Did the audience like it? Did the content producer get value out of it? That's really the way to look all these different verticals."
Many people first heard of Twitch when Amazon acquired it in August 2014, for $970 million. While Amazon does stream video content through Amazon Prime and Instant Video, before Twitch it lacked a space for user-generated video content like Google's YouTube or IAC's Vimeo.
Twitch has long been known as the main destination online for video game-related content, like live streams of watching someone playing a game or gaming-themed Web series. The site started out as Justin.tv in 2007, a live streaming video platform. Gaming-related content quickly became the most popular category, and the company turned the category into a sister site called Twitch.tv in 2011. Due to Twitch's success, Justin.tv was shuttered in August 2014, to dedicate all resources to it.
While Twitch's 100 million unique monthly visitors pale in comparison to YouTube's more than 1 billion, what it lacks in reach it makes up for in dedication. According to the company, the average Twitch user watches 106 minutes on the site per day or a total of 20 billion minutes per month for all users. Peak concurrent sitewide stats have reached 1.5 million viewers.
"When we launched Twitch and pivoted away from Justin.tv that was an absolute stroke of genius," DiPietro said. "It was really a catalyst for creating this huge entertainment site for people who created a vernacular and culture and a way of existing online and creating content."
Now, Twitch seems to want to take the next steps into more kinds of entertainment content past just gaming. On June 12, Twitch formally announced Twitch Specials, a new advertising offering that allows marketers to showcase branded content and campaigns. Its official first partner was live events producer SFX Entertainment, which streamed the React Presents: Spring Awakening Music Festival in Chicago on June 12 through 14.
Recently, the company had been experimenting with expanding its wheelhouse. It worked with HBO's "Silicon Valley" to do a livestream of the show's pilot alongside the cast in April, and has been actively working with electronic dance music record labels like OWSLA and Dim Mak to bring live streamed music programming to its users.
DiPietro said no matter the content on Twitch, everything will still be created with the gamer consumer in mind. He added the decision to expand to all entertainment content came from within Twitch, not through Amazon.
"We want to bring in nongaming brands in the entertainment space and offer them an opportunity to broadcast their content to Twitch's audience," DiPietro said.
It's a smart decision no matter where the mandate came from, said Scott Steinberg, head of video game consulting firm TechSavvy Global. Gamers have a wide range of interests, and video game consoles are increasingly becoming one-stop destinations for entertainment besides just a way to play games, he pointed out.
"(Twitch has) had tremendous success from the gamer space," Steinberg said. "Why would they not want to expand to alternate channels in order to maintain ongoing growth? It makes perfect sense they would want to branch out in different directions whether that's driven from Amazon or through the natural expansion of the brand."
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And, gamers are increasingly looked to as a desired group to target with marketing, which means more ad revenue for the companies that can reach them. They're now the mainstream American. According to the Entertainment Software Association, 59 percent of Americans play video games. The average age of a gamer? Thirty-one years old. The group is almost split equally between men and women, 52 percent to 48 percent, respectively. Women 18 and older are more likely to play video games than boys under 18.
"First, there are over a billion gamers now worldwide so it's a big audience no matter how you slice it," said Lewis Ward, director of gaming for market research company International Data Corp. "Secondly, video game play is well-suited to Web streaming and it's not something you see much of on traditional broadcasting channels so there's an opening there for the right suppliers and aggregators. Thirdly, gamers consume a lot of live and on-demand video content. They put in the time and so that attracts advertisers and other partners."
It's also hard to ignore that Amazon historically has made a lot of money from gaming, especially through the sale of consoles and video games, per equity research firm Oppenheimer's managing director of Internet analysis, Jason Helfstein. Still. he hesitated to say that Twitch's expansion is a major part of Amazon's big-picture plans. Amazon has a market cap of almost $200 billion, meaning Twitch's $970 million purchase price wasn't that big in the grand scheme of things.
"I think it's more part of its portfolio strategy, but you can look at this company in so many different ways. Twitch is just a rounding error," he said.
But as Twitch expands, it has to worry about competitors encroaching on the gamer space it has previously dominated. The global leading streaming video platform—YouTube—is honing in. It announced on Friday it will launch YouTube Gaming, a mobile app and website where gamers can easily find and watch video game-related content. A January study from YouTube showed that six of its top 10 most viewed channels and more than 20 percent of its top 100 channels revolve around gaming content.
"Everyone is trying to be everything," Steinberg said. "The field is growing at such a rapid pace, but there is still more room to play."