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Twitch Guns for YouTube by Throwing Open Hatch to Non-Gaming Video Content

Variety logo Variety 12/15/2016 Todd Spangler
© Provided by Variety

In the past five years, Twitch has built itself into a huge live-streaming haven for video-gamers to broadcast their exploits. Now, the Amazon-owned company is moving to invade a bigger part of YouTube’s turf with a new initiative to encourage its 2 million creators become traditional vloggers — sharing live or recorded video from their everyday lives.

Twitch is launching “IRL” (“in real life”), a new category for creators’ non-gameplay content. The company has revamped its community guidelines to specifically allow broadcasting of non-gaming content, and in 2017 it will add native live-streaming to the Twitch mobile app to let users to go live directly from their smartphones.

In a way, it’s back to the future for Twitch: The service started life as Justin.tv, a website designed for users to “lifecast” themselves with live-streaming video, which was launched in 2007. After gamers began using Justin.tv to broadcast their gameplay, the company rolled out the dedicated Twitch.tv service in mid-2011. It officially renamed itself Twitch in February 2014, and shut down Justin.tv later that year.

But a Twitch rep insisted that IRL does not represent a rebirth of Justin.tv. “Justin.tv was a platform created to stream random content, while Twitch has always been hyper-focused on the community and their wants,” the spokesman said. He added that Twitch’s infrastructure, features and monetization are well ahead of where Justin.tv was, with Twitch broadcasters able to make money on their channels via the company’s partnership program.

Google, for its part, had reached a preliminary deal acquire Twitch in 2014 with plans to combine it with YouTube — before Amazon swooped in to buy it. Since then, YouTube has launched the YouTube Gaming app and website, which aggregates game-related content on the video site and provides a platform for live-streamed gameplay.

While gaming is the core reason Twitch broadcasters use the service, “what we’ve heard repeatedly from them is that they are interested in sharing their everyday lives, thoughts, and opinions with their communities,” Twitch CEO Emmett Shear said in announcing the new initiative. “IRL is designed to help our creators foster that kind of community interaction.”

IRL represents Twitch’s biggest effort to date to expand beyond video-game content, after it has previously taken some steps to diversify the mix. A year ago, it launched Twitch Creative, which provided a forum for users to live-stream endeavors like cosplay and creating game-related fan art. Twitch also launched a “social eating” experiment in response to demand from gamers in South Korea, where eating online with friends has emerged as a cultural phenomenon.

Twitch’s IRL content will be aggregated at twitch.tv/IRL. To promote the launch, Twitch will host a live-streamed product announcement at 2 p.m. Pacific Thursday at twitch.tv/twitch_scar.

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