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Can you buy an audience?

When I saw Mixer fail, I can’t say I was particularly surprised. Even to me, who isn’t a particularly avid consumer of livestream content, the signs were there. But, there was a part of me that thought Microsoft wouldn’t let it die. After all, they did make some of the most prolific creator “buyouts” in the past year.

Seeing Mixer’s demise, however, was quite interesting to me as a creator. For the longest time, I’ve always been curious about whether the modern-day audience would follow the creator or the platform, and now we have a seemingly excellent case study in the form of Shroud and Ninja.

At the height of their popularity on Twitch, these were definitely two of the biggest streamers we’ve seen. Pulling tens to hundreds of thousands of concurrent viewers effortlessly, it made sense why Microsoft’s Mixer would want this kind of star power on their platform. And they were willing to pay for it too, with multi-year contracts for Ninja and Shroud reported to be around USD30 million and USD10 million respectively.

And when Ninja first made his move, it appeared that his brand was truly bigger than the platform he was streaming on.

But, as time went on, both Ninja and Shroud gradually saw significant dips in viewership on Mixer. A StreamMetrics report even indicated that 85% of Shroud’s US audience from Twitch never made the switch over to Microsoft’s new platform. And that’s wild because as far as the eye-test went, nothing changed as far as content went.

So why was there such a huge discrepancy?

Was it Mixer?

Personally, I was never a fan of Mixer as a streaming platform. Perhaps it was because I was already so used to Twitch and YouTube, but the UI on Mixer just didn’t feel as intuitive to use. Then, there were the aesthetics which I felt left a lot to be desired. It almost looked like it was thrown together as a demo website then never tweaked again.

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Of course, looks are subjective. What was the dealbreaker for me, however, was the constant buffering I encountered when watching a Mixer stream. This was not something I really faced with my time on Twitch, and I’m pretty sure my 100Mbps fibre connection would be enough to get smooth playback.

Obviously, this is anecdotal evidence from one data point and should be treated as such, but I’d love to hear about your experiences with Mixer in the comments section below.

That being said, one of the biggest features Mixer had was their Faster Than Light (FTL) technology that’s supposed to let you stream with less than a second of latency. So, it is a little perplexing why my actual streaming experience was so abysmal.

Besides that, the platform also boasted increased interactivity with MixPlay. Tools were built to enhance streams and gameplay, allowing users to vote on dialogue decisions, help or even challenge streamers. This definitely sounds cool because one of the biggest benefits to the whole livestreaming format is to have interaction with the streamer. So, being able to control various aspects of the stream definitely seems like a cool plus point.

Personal biases aside, it’s pretty clear to me that Mixer was trying to mix things up. Perhaps they could have done a little better when it came down to the execution (like forcing people to sign up for a Microsoft account just to use Mixer) but I don’t think any of those things would have been enough to stop people from using it. Especially if your favourite streamer was streaming exclusively on the platform.

Yet Microsoft still struggled to find enough traction to stay relevant. Of the “big four” streaming sites—Twitch, YouTube Gaming, Facebook Gaming and Mixer—Microsoft’s big experiment struggled to grow the most. Twitch saw year-on-year Hours Watch growth of over 101% in April of 2020. Facebook Gaming saw a staggering growth of 238% year-on-year and even YouTube Gaming had 65% more hours watched from April in 2019.

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Mixer? 0.2% year-on-year growth in hours watched. While the rest of the industry grew by roughly 2x on average, Microsoft couldn’t even get half of a percentage point. And that’s even with their superstar streamer signings.

Could it be because of us, the consumer?

I think what this COVID-19 pandemic has shown us is that we really live in a world of convenience. Almost everything can be delivered directly to your doorstep. Sometimes in the same day. Sometimes in less than two hours.

In a world saturated by more convenient ways to do everything in life, we also have more choice than ever before. But, I think that this blight of convenience has also adversely affected our desire to seek out and pursue new experiences.

Take Facebook for example. I personally hate it. I hate what it stands for, I hate that everyone’s on it, and I hate that everything is connected to it. But, the thing I hate the most is how reliant I am upon it. And I hate how OK I am with ignoring all the red flags simply because I am unwilling to give up on the convenience that it offers.

And I think that could also extend to how we consume content. As evident by Twitch’s continued growth. When Shroud and Ninja left the platform to Mixer, people didn’t just stop watching content on Twitch. I think they just found someone or something else to watch.

Obviously, this is probably an oversimplified way of looking at this situation because there are a number of factors that could have influenced this. Both from a technical and content perspective.

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eSports content, for example, is a big part of what drew me to Twitch in the first place. Massive tournaments viewed by people around the world is an easy way to get eyeballs on your website. In fact, Twitch even rolled out a dedicated eSports directory on its website to help you find that kind of content.

Then, you’ve also got big, highly publicised tournaments like Twitch Rivals which pit a whole host of creators against each other in competitive games like League of Legends and Apex Legends, among others. Couple that with the well-established (and recently revamped) UI that many are already so familiar with, and you’ve got potent concoction that is hard to turn away from.

So, why did Mixer fail? Well, one thing’s for sure: it wasn’t just one thing. While I think the discussion of creator versus platform is an interesting one to have, at the end of the day there are probably always going to be external factors that add up to play a big role.

It isn’t quite as simple as buying the best streamers in the business—there’s a lot more nuance to it. And perhaps with a little more investment into the right areas, Mixer could have become something great.

However, it’s also easy to see why Microsoft would prefer to partner with Facebook Gaming moving forward. Much like YouTube Gaming, Facebook Gaming can leverage the already massive audience that they have without needing to start from scratch.

It will be interesting to see how livestreaming develops in the coming days. With COVID-19, livestreaming has quickly become the only way for massive social gatherings to take place.

What do you think of this? Let me know in the comments below.

[SOURCE, 2, 3, 4]