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Reddit is ready for its tiny live-streaming service to get bigger

Reddit is ready for its tiny live-streaming service to get bigger

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RPAN celebrated its one-year anniversary last week

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

If you’ve scrolled through Reddit’s app recently, you might have spotted a live stream of someone playing music, making art, or just talking to the camera. Those broadcasts come from Reddit’s own live-streaming service, the Reddit Public Access Network (RPAN), which just celebrated its first anniversary last week. And as the service enters year two, Reddit is teasing an expansion to more subreddits at some point in the future.

The best word I can use to describe RPAN streams is wholesome. While browsing some last week, I stumbled across a video of a streamer playing Super Mario Maker 2 while a friend sang songs with Mario-themed lyrics. Another person streams videos of his adorable chickens. A popular post I caught on the r/whereintheworld subreddit last week on was a nearly hourlong video of a monsoon in Phoenix. The streams I’ve watched felt a lot more relaxed than what I’d typically find myself tuning into on Twitch or YouTube.

RPAN can feel a lot more relaxed than Twitch

That’s partially because the service is meant to appeal to a broader audience. “We definitely saw a lot of people who weren’t traditionally streaming on other platforms, just a lot of regular users who were excited about this new experience,” Alex Le, Reddit’s vice president of product and community, said in an interview with The Verge

On day one last year, RPAN was only available from 9AM to 5PM PT as part of a five-day test, and only certain people were allowed to stream. The service is now live 24/7 and open to everyone. There’s still one unique limitation, though: a 45-minute time limit for each stream, which can be extended by viewers via a feature called Feed the Meter. The limit was originally put in place due to technical constraints, but Reddit is now thinking about extending the limit because some broadcasters are asking for it, Deborah Hsieh, Reddit’s lead product manager on RPAN, tells The Verge.

RPAN live streams are also limited to just over a dozen subreddits right now. In r/RedditInTheKitchen, for example, people cook. In r/AnimalsOnReddit, people share their animals. (Hsieh told me she once saw a stream featuring someone’s pet owl.) During the pandemic, Reddit has seen a rise in people doing ask-me-anything broadcasts or just wanting to chat with others while they were hanging out on their couch as a form of socializing, so Hsieh pitched a whole community around that behavior: r/distantsocializing.

Eventually, Le said, Reddit plans to bring RPAN to “as many communities” as want to have it, and Reddit says that expansion is expected to happen within the next couple of months.  

Many streams seem to be from people’s phones

Part of the draw seems to be that RPAN is designed to let people easily stream from their phones. If you’ve seen RPAN streams on your Reddit feed before, that design choice shows — many streams appear to be somebody talking to their phone screen or streaming from the back cameras. That’s a much lower barrier to entry to streaming than the elaborate PC setups on which many of the biggest streamers on Twitch and YouTube rely.

But even though that means RPAN streams might have lower video or audio quality compared to those on other platforms, I don’t think phone streaming is necessarily a bad thing for RPAN. The streams I’ve watched over the past few days generally have an intangibly more intimate quality than streams I watch on Twitch or YouTube. (It is worth noting that you can also stream from your phone on Twitch or YouTube, and Reddit does offer an official integration with the popular live-streaming PC software OBS that it calls RPAN Studio). 

RPAN also seems much smaller than Twitch or YouTube right now. Reddit declined to share specific viewership numbers. But the top RPAN stream shown to me Tuesday morning in the “Popular” feed had more than 6,000 viewers, while the top stream on Twitch had more than 92,000 viewers. 

The long-term challenge for Reddit will be to find a way to encourage users to keep up the positive vibes that make RPAN streams so enjoyable to watch. At least right now, I’m happy enough watching a guy hang out with his chickens. 

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