We take a look at the last three years of streaming on Twitch - from the steady growth of streamers and viewers, to the entry of competitors like YouTube Gaming and Beam.pro. In a relatively short amount of time, Twitch has seen remarkable growth, claiming the top spot among live streaming platforms. Along the way the platform and the community have evolved, entertaining and giving back in new and creative ways.

In the realm of live streaming there is one undisputed king - Twitch.tv. There’s no arguing that timing was a factor, but looking back on the last couple of years shows that an awful lot of work (all around) went into securing that spot for the foreseeable future.

Since 2014 Twitch has been sharing a year-end retrospective with the community that are both impressive and fascinating. But now, three years later, those retrospectives as a whole tell a more multi-faceted story.

Not surprisingly, in 2014, much of the narrative focused on infrastructure growth and global reach. Each remains important, however with each subsequent year new chapters emerge and build on those preceding. Twitch doesn’t make available all of the same stats every year so we’ve had to make some assumptions, do some extrapolating, and other uber-fancy sciency type stuff to bring you this information so we highly encourage you to look at the retrospectives via the links we’ve shared at the end of the article. Let’s go -

Streamers - community lifeblood

Everyone plays an important role in the streaming community but it all starts with the content creators. In 2014, at only four years under the "Twitch" designation, there were 1.5 million unique broadcaster per month. By the end of 2015 that number had grown by over 30% to over 2 million. And 2016 closed out around 2.2 million, up another 10%.

Growth in Twitch's unique broadcasters from 2014 through 2016

Year over year streamer growth on Twitch

Why the slowing growth? Well, for one, there are just more platforms now and that trend is likely to continue. In just the last couple of years, Google has gotten serious about streaming with the launch of YouTube Gaming. Roughly a year later, Microsoft announced it had acquired Beam.pro. Twitch may be backed by Bezos Bucks but Google and Microsoft aren’t exactly cash-strapped either.

There hasn’t been much commoditization yet, with each platform still offering some very unique, and very attractive value proposition for streamers of varying tastes. There's still plenty of room for each to claim a slice of the collective pie, while the size of the pie continues to grow in tandem.

Viewers - you just don’t stop delivering

Probably the biggest driver in Twitch’s growth as a platform has been the staggering bump in viewership year after year.

By the end of 2014, Twitch was averaging 100 million unique monthly viewers, peaking at 1 million concurrent. For 2015 the company didn’t share a number on unique monthlies, however it did see a 20% increase in daily active users. If we assume the unique number grew accordingly, that would put it at around 120 million per month. Peak concurrents in 2015 saw a huge jump, essentially doubling to almost 2.1 million.

Comparison of monthly unique visitors and daily concurrent viewers

Twitch’s 2016 retrospective didn't include these measures, but CEO Emmett Shear did share some data with us at TwitchCon in San Diego towards the end of Q3. At that time, the number was slightly down, but it was negligible.

Emmett Shear delivering TwitchCon 2016 keynote

It’s entirely possible this is also due to there being more platforms, and more content creators on all platforms combined. Our hunch is that total viewership is up and will continue to trend upwards, but that viewers are starting to spread out across platforms. That being said, in 2017 already both SKT T1 Faker and the CS:GO Major have set records that may indicate this year we’ll see growth in peak concurrents.

Content - it’s all about the content

Between streamers streaming and viewers viewing, a ridiculous amount of content is pushed into the ethers of the internet. Twitch can get cheeky with how it terms this data, but the numbers are close enough year-to-year that we’re going to assume they reflect the same thing.

From 2014 through the end of 2016, Twitch content consumption grew from 192 billion to 292 billion minutes. A minute is over before you know it so who cares about that. It’s the difference between 365,296 and 555,555 years. The average life expectancy of a human is about 72 years. So there.

Illustration of Twitch content consumption change over three year period

Twitch chat - who says it never changes?

Besides kicking back and enjoying free content, Twitch viewers play an immensely important role in the community. Seriously...a streamer’s chat can define the mood of the session, reveal the hidden entertainer in an otherwise stern-faced gamer, and provide a necessary distraction during down moments.

Collectively, in 2016, Twitch chat delivered over 14 billion chat messages. This was up from just over 9 billion in 2015. For 2014 we don’t have the data handy, but in just the last two years this measure grew by 55%.

Illustration of growth in Twitch chat volume over last two years

Well, so what? Chat interaction is one of those things that’s really hard to measure unless you’re there. And even then, depending on the channel, it can still be a near impossible task (*cough* Forsen *cough*). However it’s relatively safe to say that a more engaged chat makes for a more entertaining, well-rounded experience for viewers as a whole. We all have different tastes and so your mileage may vary.

Charity - giving makes you feel good

The stats on charitable giving, just via Twitch, demonstrate that live streaming and fundraising pair up really well. Three years ago, Twitch streamers raised $10.5 million for charity, which was more than the community had done combined in the first years it existed. This grew by about 70% in 2015, to over $17 million, and by another 47% in 2016 to $25.3 million.

Illustration of growth in charitable fundraising on Twitch over last three years

At TwitchCon last year, charities had their own designated section and during all of our walkthroughs there was ample traffic and loads of events happening. There are even channels on Twitch dedicated to fundraising and, from what we can tell, Twitch has been really supportive of their efforts.

That’s a trend we can all get excited about.

Bits - the other kind of giving

The Cheering (Bits) program rolled out in 2016 and so, accordingly, there’s no historical data for drawing comparisons. Streamers have been using various services over the years for collecting donations and most are understandably quiet about the gains. There have been accidental leaks on streams of monthly donation tallies (we’re not linking that one for you) but those are too rare to reach any sweeping conclusions.

Animated Twitch Bits emotes from one to ten thousand Bits

Bits first hit beta in late June 2016, so the retrospective is only for about half a year. But during that time, about 590 million total bits were awarded to streamers. At roughly a penny (US) per bit, that’s almost $6 million dollars viewers have doled out in just 6 months, not factoring in time for the beta to conclude.

Bear in mind that in October Twitch started testing a method for earning Bits that involved voluntarily watching ads. Although minimal, some of these donations undoubtedly came from these “free” Bits but streamers benefit nonetheless.

To us this indicates there is pent up demand within the viewership on Twitch to reward streamers for their efforts. We’re not advocating raising prices by any means, but don’t be terribly surprised if the price of subscribing to a channel increases in the near future (calling it here).

NOTE: this piece was written before the announcements regarding subscriber tiers and affiliates. GOT 'EM!

Not all growth = statistics

While the figures we’ve covered tell a compelling story about a platform we all immensely enjoy, it’s important to remember this platform has given a community a place to call home.

What started with only gaming now includes a place for creative folks to reach a global audience, a place for game developers to showcase their work and better engage with their fans, a place for talk shows, and also a place where, if you’re so inclined, you can watch people eat.

Talk show crew filming in the convention center at TwitchCon 2016

In 2016 we saw some of the first games to ever be centered on the streaming experience, allowing the viewing audience to play a direct role in the outcome of the game. And with the launch of Drops for game devs, viewers can now start collecting rewards for engaging.

While on the surface this all feels a lot like the natural progression of the platform, Twitch and Amazon are surely motivated by Microsoft's acquisition of Beam and the ease with which viewers can natively interact with the streamer.

In all, it’s important to remember that this is very young industry with many players all vying to leave their mark and carve out a corner for themselves. The actions everyone takes now will shape what’s to come, and so far the future's looking bright. Much of what we’ve covered here points to continued growth, features, and enhancements that benefit everyone. It’s a truly symbiotic environment which is a refreshing departure from the norm.

Twitch retrospectives