Livestream Goes Mainstream

From an unknown mother going viral as “Chewbacca Mom” to highly watched esports competitions, livestream video is a powerful tool for reaching an immediate audience.

Candace Payne had time before picking up her kids from school, so she decided to return some yoga pants at a department store. Then she saw it: a Chewbacca mask. She bought it — not for her kids, but for the biggest Star Wars fan she knows — herself.

She went to her car, donned the electronic mask that emits a signature Chewie roar, and streamed an epically funny demonstration of her new purchase on Facebook Live.

“I’m going to go live to show my other stay-at-home mom friends that before they see all these pictures on Instagram of my kids with my toy, I wanted them to know, ‘Hey, it was mine first,’” said Payne, a mom from Texas.

As like and haha icons floated across her smartphone screen, she noticed a friend who never laughed at any of her previous livestreams sent a haha, and that made Payne laugh even harder.

Only a few hundred people saw the video as it ran live, but soon that number stretched into the millions, turning Payne into Chewbacca Mom.

“I would refresh my browser and I would see it jump up from 250,000 views to 500,000 views within four minutes,” she said.

Within days, she was fielding media requests, meeting Star Wars: The Force Awakens producer J.J. Abrams on The Late Late Show with James Corden and going on an invited tour of Facebook headquarters.

Payne’s case may be extreme — as of August 2017, the video has been viewed more than 170 million times — but the power and reach of live video is undeniable.

The Power of the Share

According to Koeppel Direct, 360 million of Facebook’s 2 billion users actively use Facebook Live. Instagram Live, YouTube Live, Twitch, and others all attract millions of users, and Twitter has recently joined in with its own live video initiative.

The expansion of platforms has been a boon to companies that use extensive livestreams, like ESL, which produces esports tournaments worldwide. Newzoo, a market research firm specializing in digital gaming, estimates that esports revenue will reach $696 million this year.

“It allows our product to reach the broadest possible base of people, from different demographics,” said Michal Blicharz, vice president of ESL’s Pro Gaming.

Roughly 22 percent of male millennials in the U.S. watch esports. Koeppel Direct found that gamers and esports fans spend up to 106 minutes daily watching livestream content on Twitch.

While esports has a built-in fan base, knowing exactly what will pop with a livestreaming audience is still a mystery.

Even executives at Facebook are not sure why Payne’s video went viral, as she found out when she visited their headquarters.

“I believe they said that the greatest thing about this video is how organic it really was,” she said. “It was just the power of the share.”

After Payne’s Chewbacca adventure, the next most-watched Facebook Live video is dulcimer champion Ted Yoder playing the Tears for Fears song “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” which garnered 97 million views.

YouTube Live’s most-watched stream was a look into the pen of April, a pregnant giraffe at the Animal Adventure Park in Harpursville, N.Y., during the weeks before she gave birth. The stream got a whopping 232 million views. Thanks to her popularity, April has a website, a clothing line and even her own emoji.

Dedicated Fans, Big Views

While which videos go viral may seem random, having a dedicated fan base can ensure that a live event garners big numbers.

Brands are getting into the action, recognizing that live video is a great way to build new audiences. Red Bull blew the roof off live event streaming with Felix Baumgartner’s supersonic freefall. Red Bull TV now broadcasts live events — from music festivals to motorcycle races.

LEGO is livestreaming press conferences and, in August, Intel used a Facebook Live event to launch its 8th Gen Intel Core processors — the first time the company used a live event to introduce a new product.

The gaming community has been among the pioneers in the live video arena, going back to the days when people would use YouTube to simply watch a screen share of someone playing Grand Theft Auto.

But since Twitch and its live video streams launched in 2011, viewership has taken off, to the point where ESL-produced tournaments like Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) are attracting millions of live video viewers and sold-out crowds at competition arenas.

Its newest IEM tournament in Sydney, Australia attracted more than 8 million unique viewers in addition to 7,000 fans filling the arena each day. The IEM World Championship in Katowice, Poland made esports history this year with 46 million unique viewers and 173,000 fans visiting Spodek Arena over two weekends.

“Suddenly, discovery of content was very, very easy,” said ESL’s Blicharz.

“You were not only reaching people that knew about ESL, but you were also reaching people that just liked gaming and wanted to watch something on a livestream,” he said. “It allowed us to tap into audiences we’ve never had a conversation with before.”

What’s On Next

Where is live video headed in the next few years? George Woo, Intel’s esport marketing manager, said to make the broadcasts more entertaining and immersive for fans worldwide, livestreaming virtual reality (VR) competitions have been introduced this year.

Intel and ESL joined with Oculus to start the VR Challenger League, where participants play VR games like The Unspoken and Echo Arena. Anyone with Oculus Rift VR headsets can watch via livestream.

IEM esports competition
IEM continues to draw millions of viewers and thousands of spectators to esports competitions. Photo credit: Adela Sznajder.

“We want to continue to promote VR in public settings by experienced spectator views as well as having open tournaments, creating more immersive experiences,” said Woo.

Winners from online qualifying matches feed into four regional finals happening around the world this fall. All of this leads to the VR Challenger League Grand Finals at an IEM event in 2018.

As far as Chewbacca Mom is concerned, she thinks that whole networks can be created from user-made livestreams like her new talk show, which she’ll post weekly to her 800,000 Facebook followers. She even has a new book, Laugh It Up!, coming out in fall 2017.

“I honestly believe Facebook Live is a medium right now to restore the grittiness and the authenticity of what live is supposed to look like in the way that we’re entertained,” Payne said.

“Whoever wants to follow can follow. The right people will be there.”


Feature photo image courtesy of Candace Payne.

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