Interview with Michael Aragon, Chief Content Officer, Twitch
How would you define the Twitch brand today, in a word or a sentence?
I think the way we describe ourselves in a word is “community. And it’s a community centered around live streaming in the interactivity of live entertainment. You have creators and fans who come together because they share a passion, sometimes gaming, others eSports, others cooking, and, increasingly, some just chatting. They come together, interact and actually be a part of that live entertainment.
We’ve seen Twitch grow from a beloved brand in the gaming community to a powerhouse shaping the cultural zeitgeist, particularly over the course of the last year. How have you done it?
Originally, gaming was the dominant stream on Twitch, and gaming will always be a part of our DNA. But organically over time, music, sports, and other forms, have evolved as a result of the community and cultural zeitgeist, and become a very important part of Twitch.One of our fastest growing categories is “Just Chatting”, which is an amalgamation of a lot of people having conversations. Last month Just Chatting was our Number 1 category (and in the Top 1 or 2 of thousands of categories every month for 6 months).If you want to build or participate in a community, Twitch is the place to do it. It’s a wonderful place to go, and I think that’s where we are today– a live streaming community centered on gaming but that also has cultural touchpoints into all these different areas.
What is your ambition for the business and brand in five years’ time?
We think of ourselves as the future of entertainment, bringing a fully interactive experience to a society and culture more and more invested in real connection and engagement.In sports it’s all about community. But on Twitch, fans aren’t watching the game, they’re watching somebody watch the game, and participating in that conversation as well. Sometimes they’re famous folks, sometimes they are just gamers who also have a passion for this particular sport.Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez played Among Us on Twitch to raise money for a charity, AOC is somebody who understands what community can do and how to build on that to do something positive. The other day Jimmy Fallon was playing Among Us, and he had an audience of 100,000 people on his first stream ever.We see our brand as a powerful place for anybody who wants to create community and share their passion across many different types of content or interests.
What are the core needs and desires that your brand addresses today, and how will these evolve as you move towards that ambition?
The wonderful thing about being part of Amazon is that we’re very customer-focused and our customer is the content creator.So the way we think about evolution is always in partnership with creators – whether it’s my partnerships or product teams.Sometimes it’s monetization effort, sometimes it’s product effort, sometimes it’s community efforts – like how we help people of color and women streamers have a more equitable home on Twitch.We do a lot of those things to help them stay ahead, but it all comes from the mindset of adopting a content creator first mentality.
Tell us more about Twitch’s purpose and how it’s embedded in the brand.
One of the things I was most proud of last year is when the lock-down happened in early March, within 11 days my team was able to pull together ‘Twitch Stream Aid’, an 12-hour live event that had streams from people like John Legend, Charlie Puth and even Garth Brooks, and we raised a couple of million bucks for The WHO COVID-19 Foundation. I didn’t notice anybody else doing it as quickly as we were able to do it. We did it because we knew that the community wanted to do something, and we also knew that there were people out there – musicians, athletes, and celebrities – who needed an outlet as well, and to me that was a really good example us being able to find a way to build on our strengths and do something important for our communities.And what we’ve seen since then, is a lot of other examples. We’ve had a lot of initiatives around Women’s History Month and Black History Month. Last year my team helped content creators raise over $111 millions for charity and the WHO was a part of that, but you know that’s twice as bigger than it was in 2019 and 2020 was not a great year. I mean, we’re in the depths of economic problems, but the fact that we were able to double our charity commitment initiatives is telling that the community wants to give back and we were able to tap into that..Building on all of these conversations that are happening, whether it’s social, racial justice, served with all that’s happening with COVID are all the things that are important because the way to build on those conversations and to do our part to make the world better is to leverage our skills and our community to amplify those voices. And I think we’re doing a good job doing that.
How important is the rise of eSports to Twitch’s continued relevance and growth?
eSports has always been very important to Twitch. Obviously, with gaming still being at the core of what we do, eSports will always be center touchpoint to how we think about content and how do we deliver that to the community. I think eSports is interesting because when you’re talking about professionals at the top of their game, just like watching LeBron James play, it’s very aspirational to a lot of people who want to be really good gamers. eSports will continue to grow and we’ve been the center point for all that growth.We’ve also built an in-house format called ‘Twitch Rivals’ which has become a pretty significant business and a pretty significant audience driver, as well as a wonderful way for content creators to just have something fun to do. Sometimes it’s about content and other times the things that we’re doing on Rivals are pure competition like WWE or even Uno tournaments. What’s really interesting about Rivals is that people want that aspirational content, they want to see the pros at their highest level and their favorite influencers or creators compete and see how they’re doing, mix it up a bit and have different types of teams and formats.
Which entertainment brands or trends are you particularly inspired by today?
Some of the brands that are interesting to me are the ones that are able to tap in across gaming. One of our partners is Complex, and they tap into this youth culture but also are in touch with gaming, music and eSports. They’re bringing it all together and doing a lot of experimentation on Twitch. I’m very excited about how they’re tying everything in a way that’s authentic for fans.What’s really interesting is the people who are smart about all of the things that they need to be doing to tap into this younger audience who’s not reachable through traditional TV. I mentioned AOC… She’s busy and spends maybe one day a month or every other month on Twitch, and when she does, it’s very impactful. The first time she streamed with us, Alexandra had half million people watching her. It’s people like her, Jimmy Fallon and Complex, the ones that know how to leverage Twitch and build community and how to tie that back into brands. All the things that they are doing are really interesting to me and we want to be a part of that.
What’s the one thing that you’ve learned about your role or yourself over the last year?
For me, the pandemic confirmed that people do seek and need community. And while online communities don’t replace in-person community, there’s certainly a way that allows you to still stay connected in a meaningful way. We saw that because of Twitch’s growth, and besides the fact that we’re coming out of this, we’re still seeing very steady and healthy growth. This just confirmed that our brand is a community and a great destination for people who want to build those communities beyond gaming.