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How Can the Arts Benefit From Twitch?

Twitch is a live video streaming service that was first launched back in June 2011. Since then, the platform has become a huge hit with video gamers who have primarily used it to stream themselves playing, either to run tutorials or for the sheer enjoyment of showing off their gaming skills to an online audience. Other than so-called e-sports broadcasting, however, Twitch has started to be used for more and more creative content. Typically, music videos are developed for the platform, for example.

Now arts organisations are starting to discover Twitch and how it can be leveraged for promotional purposes. Anything from stand-up comedy shows to virtual tours of some of the world’s leading museums and galleries can be offered over the service. Yes, there are alternatives to Twitch but with a particularly young demographic of users, the platform offers plenty of opportunities for exploitation by arts organisations. Marketing using the service means reaching very large audience numbers, too.

Just four years after Twitch launched, it was sustaining 100 million views each and every month. In 2017, it became the leading platform for sharing online gaming content in the United States, even surpassing the might of YouTube Gaming for the first time. By the following year, Twitch had gained well over 25,000 partner channels and tens of millions of active daily users. If that is not enough to get arts organisations interested in the potential of Twitch, by 2020 it was reported that the service was being used regularly by 1.4 million users at the same time. It now enjoys 15 million or so users who log on every day of the week and there are around three million live streams that occur each month.

In other words, if arts organisations think that their Facebook Live feeds and their YouTube channels are all they need to consider as a part of their video marketing strategies, then they are overlooking one of the most remarkable platforms around. Twitch may never have been designed as a service for arts organisations but it is certainly one they can utilise. How is it best to go about this and what sort of approaches are those in the arts sector already taking? Read on to find out.

Twitch Channel Creation

To begin with, all arts organisations have to do is to open up their own channel on Twitch to start generating the sort of content its subscribers are likely to be interested in. Museums, theatrical groups, galleries, dance troupes and performers of all kinds can begin streaming from their screens whatever they like using Twitch to build-up a following and to promote themselves. That’s not all, however, because using Twitch in this way can also bring on board paid-up subscribers. Live streaming can be done in several ways. You might like to start by posting archived videos or simply come up with a series of clips that are streamed ‘as live’.

In this way, arts institutions will be able to share unique content that says something about them in a branded manner. There are numerous creative formats you can use, too, with anything from video from tours to gameplay of associated games and even audio-based podcasts that will work. Remember that all this content may be suited to audiences who are already familiar with the sort of work an arts organisation does as well as others who may never have experienced it before.

A good example of the sort of thing that is ongoing is the Art Gallery of Ontario. This art museum decided that it would put together a live streaming series in four parts in July of last year, partly due to the lockdown that was restricting access to the gallery. Known as AGO Let’s Play, the four-part series included content from game designers, the sort of people that Twitch’s game-oriented subscribers might be most interested in. In addition, the gallery’s marketing team featured artists as well as an AGO curatorial assistant to bring other aspects of the museum into the same virtual space as the gaming content.

In December of 2020, the Army Museum in Paris did something similar with its collection. This time, it approached a well-known Twitch streamer called Rivenzi to run a live stream explaining what it had to offer. In a two-hour special, the Twitch celebrity was able to go through a complete live guided tour with the museum’s curator – all of which was able to be viewed by his army of followers, of course. Rivenzi’s exploration of the Parisian museum also featured a historical researcher to add more colour to the content that was on offer online.

The point about the two approaches taken by the gallery and the museum is not so much that they took a different path but that they harnessed individual approaches to build up their channel’s presence. Both wanted to break new ground within Twitch and to explore what sort of promotional opportunities could be gained in this online world.

Gaming and Arts Organisations

Of course, arts institutions – and, in particular, museums – have not been slow to realise the potential of video games. The social simulation game, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, has already been used by the Metropolitan Museum of Art to showcase its impressive collection. The Nintendo game has also been used by the Getty and the Cincinnati Art Museum in much the same way so that gamers can experience something like a virtual tour of these galleries.

In November 2020, Animal Crossing was among the games used by the Monterey Bay Aquarium to improve its outreach during the Covid-19 pandemic. According to Emily Simpson, the aquarium’s social media specialist, the idea was to use Twitch to live stream adapted gameplay from Animal Crossing to demonstrate the way in which the ocean is depicted in video games and to educate the public about the reality of oceanography. Simpson pointed out that the aquarium does well on services like Facebook among middle-aged people but not so well with younger audiences.

She said that part of the decisions to put educational content onto Twitch through games that younger people would be familiar with was specifically to make her organisation better known among 16 to 35 year-olds. One of the keys to the success of the strategy was simply to live stream gameplay, however, but to interact with the audience watching online. According to Simpson, this meant having experts on stand-by to answer questions that would come up through exploration of the game. Of course, the Monterey Bay Aquarium isn’t an arts organisation but its approach with gaming was soon taken up other institutions in the United States in a similar fashion, notably the Smithsonian in Washington DC and the Field Museum in Chicago.

Twitch’s Online Communities

The ability to diversify the content posted on Twitch – something which has only just come to pass – offers opportunities for cultural organisations that go far beyond streaming the museum-orientated content of a video game to a wider audience. Although this technique has been replicated in that sub-sector of the arts, Twitch is offering many more interactive features that tech-savvy arts groups and institutions can take advantage of.

The Sales Director of Benelux countries at Twitch, Melissa Simoni, said that the platform’s interactive viewership had led to its dominance in the gaming industry, pointing out that it was this exact feature that the Monterey Bay Aquarium had been so innovative with. According to Simoni, this led to an online community forming which was only in-part based on nostalgia for a relatively old game title. “The universe of Twitch is immersive,” Simoni continued. “[When it is]… live, it provides a much stronger visual attention span with engagement levels that are unmatched today.”

The online communities that have found their home in Twitch are fairly diverse, too. Some are devoted to political discussions although, famously, the service was one of the earliest to throw out the former President of the United States for community rule violations. Others are devoted to live chats on art, performance, comedy and music, often split up into interest groups who want to know about a particular sub-culture.

Performers and Twitch

At the moment, it is individual performers and artists who are tending to use Twitch to make a name for themselves. For example, the Scottish actor and comedian Brian Limond has streamed to hundreds of thousands of followers as his alter ego, Limmy. The BAFTA award-winning performer began by streaming live videos about – you guessed it – gaming but soon found the platform worked for comedic content, too.

Karen Allen, the author of an ebook entitled ‘Twitch for Musicians’, uses the platform to live perform her music on. As she explained, Twitch has to be used organically within existing communities of like-minded people and fans. Join them and you can attract an audience who share common interests and passions. “People won’t just stumble across you,” she said. By being a fan of other streamers, musicians will be able to become part of the fabric of Twitch and start gathering their own followings.

Some big-name musicians have opted for Facebook or Instagram to perform live on while concert halls have been shut. However, Twitch has been the favoured home of more up-and-coming artists, notably DJs. Rich Medina and Diplo are just two performance DJs who have used the platform to great critical acclaim in the last twelve months. Although the arts scene on Twitch remains small compared to gaming, it is certainly growing thanks to contributions like theirs.

According to Tracy Chan, Twitch’s head of music, the platform has been growing in popularity in all performance categories in recent years but it is musicians who are leading the way. Chan said that streaming among musicians had grown fivefold in the last year alone. “More and more musicians are building up their own communities with us,” she said. Although Chan – and others at Twitch – reckon that music is going to be a big part of the platform’s future even when social distancing rules finally come to an end, it is not just musical performers who are leveraging the service during the healthcare crisis.

For instance, the pandemic has been equally hard-hitting on the drag queen communities in the UK, many of which rely on small venues and a unique performance style among its many participants. With so many performance spaces in pubs and clubs closed, drag performers began turning to Twitch to offer themselves an alternative way of reaching their audience. For some, this began by live streaming instruction videos, usually on a particular aspect of hair care or make-up application.

However, drag performers soon began to realise just how easy it would be to start streaming videos of their acts, too. Given that everything is live on Twitch, the immediacy of the interaction between performers and their audience – not to mention heckler put-downs – the service was found to be ideal for this form of entertainment. As early as February last year, just as the possibilities of lockdowns were being discussed in the UK, drag received its own official tag on Twitch. By May, a Drag Community Development Programme had been launched using the service.

Of course, people live-streaming their performances from their home is one thing but it is not necessarily something that theatrical groups can do while social distancing rules mean that actors will need to remain apart from one another. However, this did not put off one Twitch streamer who adapted the Seagull by Anton Chekhov for the platform. Celine Song, a playwright in her own right, decided she would use the Sims as a game she could live stream from in which the action of the Seagull could be played out. Song had many technical hurdles to overcome, such as adjusting the volume of the game so that the virtual performances of her simulated actors could be heard. That said, the virtual theatrical production was shown to be something that could be streamed as live on Twitch so who knows where arts organisations will take the service next?

About the author – Manuel Charr

Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. He writes extensively for Culture Geek and MuseumNext. Manuel has a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.

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