Interviewer: Chris Sutcliffe

Chris Sutcliffe: Could you tell me a little bit about yourself and what you do?

Jack Woodcock: My name’s Jack, I am the creative strategy lead for Twitch within the brand partnership studio. Twitch is lots of things. Its simplest description would be that it’s the world’s biggest live-streaming service. Every day, around 200 million people visit our site in different parts of the world. As we’re talking now, there’s around 1.6 million people watching content on Twitch, which is just staggering.

Although Twitch is predominantly focused around gaming content, there’s loads and loads of different types of content on Twitch. Music has become an especially big thing on the platform for all the obvious reasons that you would expect that came out of the world going into lockdown.

Over the last year, new types of creators have found an opportunity to connect with their audiences on Twitch. It’s been a really exciting thing to be part of in what has been a very difficult time for lots and lots of people.

My team is the creative strategy part of what is essentially an agency-like function that exists within the Twitch advertising sales org. So we perform the role of a creative agency, essentially, for our key clients’ brands who want to do work on the platform and communicate with our audience in different parts of the world.

Nice, fantastic.

I think the thing about Twitch that’s so unique is the opportunity that it gives creators and influencers to have a real-time, live, in-the-moment connection with their community, because that’s what Twitch is all about. The vast majority of content that is consumed on Twitch is live, which is the thing that makes it different and kind of special.

100%. The thing that really attracts me to the platform, as a consumer of streams, is the ability to interact directly with a streamer. That live interaction part has always been a core part of Twitch is offering But how’s that sort of space evolved over the last couple of years? Has that direct interaction become more central to that offering?

Twitch has been through various different stages of evolution since its inception. I think that this idea of being able to interact with a content creator in real-time has always been quite fundamental and core to what Twitch is and what makes it special. I think one of the most exciting things about working at Twitch is that lots of the development and the evolution of the services is actually driven by the creator community.

We have millions and millions of super creative people, every day, going live and sharing content and sharing live experiences with their audience. If I look at some of the platform developments that have happened in the time that I’ve been in the business, they’ve been driven by the creative community, like finding ways to make Twitch do what they wanted it to do. Then we see that opportunity and turn it into a product.

A good example of that is the squad stream function, which enables up to four streamers to create a piece of content together where users are able to quickly move between each individual channel to get a different view of the gameplay that those creators are in. But that development was driven out of the fact that creators were finding ways to do that anyway.We saw that and then turned it into a product that is now available to everyone.

In terms of how it’s evolved over the last couple of years, probably one of the biggest things that I’ve seen change over the two and a half years that I’ve been with the business is the breadth of content that’s being produced. It’s a lot of fun.

Yeah, definitely. I think you preempted one of my questions, which is that it’s such a good place for those creators who are charismatic, who have something that they’re deeply passionate about. I wonder if you think that the individual creator is still the primacy on Twitch, or is there an opportunity for organisations to use it effectively too?

There’s definitely an opportunity for organisations to use it. A big part of the work that my team do is working with brands and all their agencies and helping them understand what their motivations are and what their objectives are for moving into Twitch and connecting with that audience.

I think the advice for a publisher or an organisation would be the same as the advice that we give our brand partners in that scenario. I think the really important thing about thinking about how you’re going to move on to a platform like Twitch and look to connect with that audience starts off with by understanding what your objectives are and what it is you’ve got to say.

Because what a news brand would have to say will be very different to the sort of content that maybe an entertainment or lifestyle publisher might look to bring to life. About your question around whether or not the individual creator is almost the best use of that sort of environment, I think there are lots of different ways that brands and publishers are working that keeps creators at the heart but brings in a range of other opportunities.

One of the biggest things that a publisher would want to ask themselves before they start mapping out how they’re going to start showing up on Twitch, is what they want to communicate and when and how regularly. Because it might be that you have one tentpole event over the course of the year.

You want to make that thing live and give the audience an opportunity to be part of that and interact with it and potentially help shape and change it. Or it might be that you’re a publisher who creates super engaging content every day and want to find a place to have some sort of ongoing dialogue around it with the community.

To give a bit of an insight into the different organisations using it, something that is currently becoming quite a big thing on Twitch is what is either called a Watchalong or a Sidecast. This is essentially when an individual or group of individuals will share a live experience, typically sport, with a bunch of people that are watching it with them.

They’re not streaming the content, they’re streaming themselves watching the content, the expectation being in many situations, the people who are watching it with them will also be watching that content. I think a lot of the UK, like the English Premier League teams, are setting up Twitch channels now.

I am a long-suffering Tottenham fan. If I so wish, when there’s a Spirs game on, I can watch the Tottenham Hotspurs channel and be miserable about it with a load of other Spurs fans, whilst two presenters from the Tottenham Twitch channel discuss what’s going on and talk to individuals. There are lots of different ways that you could bring Twitch in as part of what it is that you want to do.

You’ve actually touched on a couple of things I wanted to bring up there. One is Twitch as this community hub for brands, as you mentioned there, when people are doing that side viewing and everyone’s piling into the chat, or voting in the poll, so the host of putting up, it really does act as a sort of focal point for a community in a lot of ways.

The other thing that I wanted to bring up is your idea that actually doing something live, having that side viewing is incredibly effective when you do have a brand that knows exactly what it’s talking about. A couple of times now, I’ve watched tech conferences with a Twitch channel live at the same time so I can get their immediate feedback and their immediate thoughts on what’s being announced.

I think that’s a very good assessment of one of the biggest sort of unique elements and potentials in Twitch that creating that opportunity to have live dialogue around various different types of stuff. A few weeks ago, maybe longer now, my team and I who are still remotely working, all watched a spacewalk that NASA had put, on their channel live. We’re all talking about it in the chat bar as well, as in Slack.

Every now and again, you just share one of those moments of ‘what’s going on here?’ We’re watching someone walk in space and there is a woman talking to us about it at the same time. It’s very cool, lots of cool stuff going on.

Definitely. It’s almost like that reinvention of the watercooler moment, except that everyone is live at the time, just chatting about it. It’s an amazing experience. I’m subscribed to a couple of Twitch streamers and it’s really nice being part of those communities.

It’s less fun being on the other side trying to build my brand, when I’m not that charismatic and I don’t really have an area of expertise. One of the most humiliating experiences I’ve ever had was trying to do a music stream with a maximum of three people on. It was just the worst piece of trash that was ever made on Twitch. It was awful.

The act of going live and the commitment that it takes is quite different. You talked about it being embarrassing, I’m sure it wasn’t, but even if it was, then great. The fact that Twitch is live and it is unfiltered and it’s in the moment, I think that is the thing about it that especially the youngest, Gen Z end of our audience, which makes up a very large portion of it, they expect that authenticity.

Think about photo-sharing platforms where everything is highly curated and highly filtered. Twitch is almost the antithesis of that. In order to go live and create a piece of content with the community, because creators will see it as a collaborative process that exists between them and the people that are watching them, it is exposing.

There is risk and you have to lay yourself bare to an extent. That is what individuals find the most compelling about Twitch. It’s personal at the same time as being a shared experience.

Definitely. I see one of the things I wanted to touch upon, something you mentioned right back at the start, which is your own role and the role of your department, being a sort of internal ad agency, almost a creative agency. So what opportunities are there for, say, brands who do want to appear on Twitch, whether that’s part of sponsorship or as a pre-roll ad, which I know do exist on there. So what are some incentives for brands who want to sit alongside this content?

There are lots of different opportunities. In terms of an advertising model, the Twitch ad model is pretty simple. If you want to advertise on Twitch, then the way the vast majority of brands will do that is through pre-roll advertising, as you just pointed out. T

he thing about the way that advertising shows up on Twitch that is quite distinct from the market is that you see far fewer ads on Twitch than you would on lots of other video platforms. I think one of the reasons that we’re able to do that and one of the things that I was most surprised by when I joined the business is because session time for individuals is so long. The average session time for someone who just comes in to watch Twitch is 90 minutes.

When I think about my own behaviour on other video platforms, I will go in with a specific thing that I want to watch and that will probably be gone in less than three minutes. There is a range of benefits that come from having that super engaged audience that stay with us for a long time. Low ad weight is one of them.

There are lots of different things that brands can do to show up on Twitch, though. The simplest is to include Twitch as part of their advertising mix for pre-roll. The work that my team does spans a range of things. Typically, most of the ads that we will deliver for brand partners will be quite simple. It will be taking a product or brand and then creating a narrative that we can build around that product or brand into a piece of live content working with a streamer.

As an example, for Twix, there is a long-standing creative route for Twix. A lot of their ads that people have seen on TV, it’s all about this idea of left versus right. We worked very well in terms of a videogame-type scenario. We recruited two UK streamers to represent left Twix and right Twix and built a two-hour show around them playing head-to-head in various different games. It was really fun, I think they both had a lot of fun. I feel like Twix got lots of value out of it.

So you can work with streamers. We have some options in Amir for brands that want to adopt a more sponsorship-type approach rather than that type of original branded content. Twitch Rivals is the biggest thing that we own in terms of owned property.

It’s how eSports show up on Twitch in the way that we run it. It’s remote competitive events that are based around loads of different games, featuring Twitch streamers. That was built out in North America first, but this year, we’ve brought Twitch Rivals to Europe for the first time. Doritos have been the first sponsor of that, but I’m sure that other brands will come in and work in that space next year.

There’s lots and lots of different things that brands can do. There are also some really exciting things that brands can do that don’t involve streamers at all. One of the things that we do that I always get most excited about is build out multiplayer games. There was a trend called Twitch Plays.

I love Twitch Plays. It was the highlight of my year, the original Twitch Plays Pokemon. It was unreal. As a bit of a penultimate question, I wondered what would be some of your predictions about what is going to be the future of that interactivity between streamer, brand, audience over the next couple of years? You’ve mentioned tools that are developed really quickly, but are there any core tenets of the relationship that you think are gonna develop further over the next couple of years?

It’s a really good question. Although the production valuesdefinitely change, we look at the production value that a lot of streamers produce content with today versus what we were seeing like five or six years ago, they’re worlds apart. Everything is starting to feel a lot slicker, a lot more professional.

I think, actually though, the core of what makes Twitch really interesting has not changed. It is that very almost pure interaction between an individual, a streamer, and their community. I don’t see that that will change.

I think probably the things that we will start to see changing over the next couple of years, based on the trends that we’re seeing at the moment, is that the various different types of content will become more prevalent on Twitch. I think that there is a huge amount of music content coming onto Twitch already. I assume that trend is going to continue.

Another thing that will be really interesting is that games publishers have started thinking about how, how they can build out games in a way that makes them work well for live-streaming. We were just talking about Twitch Plays as an example of something where all of the community gets to do something together. It feels like there is an opportunity for a games publisher to build a game that has elements of that crowd control, multiplayer functionality into it.

I’m excited to see what they do because there’s such a huge amount of creativity in the industry at the moment from so many different levels, from super cool indie publishers to the triple-A titles that you see on the side of buses. It’s an exciting time to be in an industry associated with gaming.

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