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What Twitch can teach the media about audience engagement

Social media needs to offer more than competition for media brands, or places to try to port over new audiences. We need to understand their appeal and its impact on storytelling and engagement.

May 14, 2024 | By Rande Price, Research VP – DCN

Twitch – the go-to platform for gamers and live streamers – may have something to teach the media about as a news production and engagement. New research shows a generational shift in live news production, emphasizing community-driven storytelling and interactivity and real-time engagement. Amazon-owned Twitch’s popularity among young audiences challenges traditional journalism to confront the realities of how news consumption is changing.

In their paper, Recasting Twitch: Livestreaming, Platforms, and New Frontiers in Digital Journalism, researchers Maxwell Foxman, Brandon Harris, and William Clyde Partin explore Twitch as a new platform for journalists and examine how the platform influences journalistic practices. They analyze three popular Twitch channels: The Washington Post (WaPo), Hasan Piker, and Patriots’ Soapbox (PSB). The authors chose to focus on these three channels due to their popularity and distinct modes of news production thereby offering a comprehensive view of the platform’s impact on journalism.

The research highlights several themes regarding news production on Twitch: the concept of liveness, various styles and formats used, engagement with the audience, professional identity and boundaries, and the platform’s relationship with digital intermediaries.

A Twitch approach to live news and entertainment

Central to Twitch’s influence on journalism is its unique approach to “liveness.” Liveness refers to audiences routinely tuning in and interacting with creators. The platform encourages viewers to actively contribute during streams through Chat, which also becomes content that hosts react to aloud. The real-time back-and-forth entertains users.

While WaPo relied on exclusive coverage and traditional broadcast formats, Piker and PSB (which appear to no longer be on Twitch at all) integrate pre-existing content and engage directly with their audiences, fostering a sense of community and immediacy. This dynamic interaction blurs the lines between creators and consumers, redefining the traditional roles of journalists and audiences.

Media style and format

Each channel exhibits its style and format, reflecting the diversity of content on Twitch. The Washington Post’s channel (which hasn’t broadcast since May 6, 2024) took an approach that resembles traditional broadcast journalism. Piker’s is a social media-inspired mix of news and entertainment. PSB offers hyper-partisan commentary. Twitch provides a wide range of approaches to news production, which allows news brands to cater to diverse audience preferences.

Professional identity and boundaries

Each channel navigates journalistic boundaries differently. WaPo adheres closely to traditional journalism practices. However, Piker and PSB embrace their roles as ideological commentators, blurring the lines between journalism, entertainment, and political activism. This fluidity in professional identity can challenge traditional journalistic integrity and objectivity norms.

Audience engagement lessons for media

Audience interaction is central to all channels, with each streamer fostering a collaborative relationship with their viewers. Piker and PSB rely on audience contributions for content and validation, while WaPo maintains a more traditional broadcast format with limited on-air engagement. This direct interaction enhances viewer engagement and fosters a sense of community, continuing to blur the distinction between creators and consumers.

Twitch and media audience engagement

This study recognizes Twitch as a way to offer new and innovative forms of journalism that challenge traditional norms and practices. Its unique approach to “liveness,” diverse styles and formats, and dynamic interaction with audiences could impact how journalists produce news as it reflects how audiences engage with information they enjoy.

ESPN’s Esports channel (active almost daily as of May 2024) has 88.8k followers

However, while Twitch has lessons to teach legacy news organizations, it seems few have found a sustainable model on the platform. In addition to the sites included in the research, it appears that channels for Wired, Complex, Rolling Stone, and Vice have all gone dormant. In any case, this research highlights the evolving relationship between live streaming, entertainment, and news.

The popularity of Twitch (as well as other social platforms) among young audiences needs to offer more than competition for media brands. It is important that we experiment by going where the audiences are. However, it is also important that we begin to understand the reasons audiences gravitate towards these platforms to find ways to better attract and engage them.

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