How do you get millennials who don't have a cable subscription to care about HBO? Bring it to them through the trusted Trojan horse of video games, of course. Next Wednesday, April 8th, the premier episode of Silicon Valley will stream on Twitch. That's the company that built a billion-dollar business around broadcasting gamers in action. It marks the first time any TV network has broadcast a show on Twitch.
Video games as Trojan horse
Staying true to the format, the Silicon Valley cast will kick things off with a live chat on a couch, answering questions from the crowd and showing off their joystick skills before streaming the episode and some exclusive clips. What HBO gets out of this is obvious: it's putting its show in front of a huge new audience, roughly 100 million monthly active users. "We were initially impressed by the scale of Twitch as a platform," said Sabrina Caluori, HBO's vice president of digital and social media. "As we began working with them, we discovered that there's real quality engagement in addition to huge reach — it's rare to find both."
So what does Twitch get out of this? Over the last six months, the company has pushed aggressively to expand its repertoire beyond video games. It became the exclusive streaming partner for the Ultra Music Festival and hosted debuts from Skrillex and Diplo. With the HBO announcement, it is trying to flex its muscle in yet another area of entertainment.
In the marketing campaign for the Ultra Festival we see a young man — Dutch DJ/Producer Martin Garrix — playing video games on Twitch when a little pop up on his phone alerts him to some live music. He switches over with a click. In a world where HBO has finally cut the cord and is offering a standalone streaming subscription, HBO Now, it is probably keen to find lots of new models for distribution.
Beyond just the size of the audience, Twitch has also pioneered a new model for monetization. There is usually a very active chat room running alongside the stream. Viewers can subscribe and leave donations to avoid ads and get noticed by broadcasters. Mix that mechanic with big name celebrities, and you might create a very lucrative revenue stream for television.
Twitch has pioneered a new model for monetization
Silicon Valley lead Thomas Middleditch actually has a Twitch account with a little activity on it, and the press release bills the cast as real-life gamers. It's hard to know how much of that is true and how much is just good marketing copy, but the partnership definitely represents an interesting experiment for both companies. In the rapidly evolving world of streaming media, blue chip incumbents and young upstarts are suddenly working side by side.