Twitch's homepage. Screenhsot.
If I were to ask you to guess what websites take up the most broadband traffic during peak hours, you'd probably rattle off the usual suspects: Netflix, YouTube, Google, Facebook. And—Twitch? The videogame livestreaming site? That's what I thought. Last month, the startup revealed some impressive statistics that put it ahead of other popular video streaming services like Netflix and Hulu in terms of monthly unique visitors, among other metrics.
But still, our collective addiction to binge-watching and hate-reading our social media feeds just seem like they must soak up more bandwidth than a stereotypically niche pursuit like video games. Apparently not.
Last week, the Wall Street Journal published a story about Apple's online infrastructure that had a surprising and unrelated piece of news: Twitch had started to edge out luminaries like Amazon, Hulu, and Facebook during peak traffic hours. The study, which was conducted with the network infrastructure firm Deep Field, ranked the company fourth in terms of peak internet traffic behind Netflix, Google, and Apple. The news even caught Twitch off guard, one of its executives admitted in an interview with The Verge today.
This might come as a shock to people who mostly know about video games from tear-filled sessions of Flappy Bird (Too soon? Sorry). But, really, this has been a long time coming. Last month, Twitch announced that it had doubled its audience to more than 45 million unique monthly visitors, who spent an average of 106 minutes a day watching videos. Today, the company followed that up with another telling figure: it now has one million active users broadcasting on the platform every month. The service's ascent has been so meteoric that Twitch's parent company and the birthplace of the service, Justin.tv, also decided to formally change its name to Twitch Interactive, cementing the gaming platform as its "central brand," Twitch said in today's press release.
Like all information highlighted in press releases, it's important to take the news of Twitch's growth with a grain of salt. It might gobble up more traffic during peak hours than Facebook does, but is that really saying much? 1.2 billion users is a lot more than 1 million, and the differences in bandwidth are partly a reflection of each product's difference as services. Twitch is catering to a more specific audience than a general interest social network, sure. But even playing video games online (presumably also a popular undertaking, considering Twitch was made to augment that central activity) is a less resource-intensive task, traffic-wise, than streaming video content from a remote server.
Still, the fact that Twitch has made a dent like this raises an interesting question of how the company plans to address the new pressures of being in the big leagues, so to speak. Matt DiPietro, the company's vice president of marketing, told The Verge that it is already working to establish more "points of presence" at which it can set up servers to help meet the needs of its "rapidly rising bandwidth."
And what about the ever-present threat of potential competitors? Seeing Twitch's impressive growth, it's not hard to imagine a company like Google or Facebook decide to get into the game.
Twitch clearly anticipated that concern, because it called up the noted game industry analyst Michael Pachter for today's press release. He was bullish about the company's future prospects, saying that it already "taken the lead in live streaming by attracting users on PS4, which is only going to become more solidified when Twitch broadcasting is available on Xbox One." The jump to next-gen consoles is significant because previously Twitch was only available for PC gaming, so getting onto TVs opens the service up to an entirely new audience.
"The first mover advantage on these consoles is a real one," Pachter added, "as it will be difficult for Twitch competitors to get users to switch."
Pachter's comments illustrate an important point about Twitch's recent success: the company has an incredible amount of street cred among gamers, who are fiercely loyal when they want to be. So while other, bigger tech companies might start trying to nudge their way in, Twitch has already shown just how far devoting a web platform to an oft overlooked form of entertainment can really take you.