What your brand needs to know about the burgeoning video-game streaming battle

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Author: George P. Slefo. Source: AdAge

In this week's Technically Speaking, Microsoft’s Mixer presents a challenge to Amazon’s Twitch—using a real-life ninja.

Technically Speaking is Ad Age’s regular look at some of the trending tech issues confronting modern marketers.

Twitch is the dominant player in the video-game streaming industry. But Microsoft’s Mixer signaled that it’s serious about taking on the Amazon-owned juggernaut when it recently inked streaming superstar Ninja to an exclusive deal. The Aug. 1 announcement resonated immediately in the gaming community, which brands increasingly covet: Ninja has already attracted nearly 1 million subscribers to his Mixer channel. The week of the Ninja deal, the number of mobile app downloads for Mixer increased by a multiple of 10, according to Sensor Tower, an app intelligence company. Overall, it captured 653,000 downloads during the week of Ninja’s signing, up from 64,000 prior to his arrival. Because Mixer is already installed on all Xbox consoles and Windows computers, the download stats don’t capture all users.

“Since Microsoft owns Xbox and Mixer, there is a great level of interactivity for viewers and compatibility with Microsoft, Xbox and Windows 10 that is second to none,” says Jordan Fox, president and founder of MMP Digital, a digital and personal branding consultancy. “This platform seems to be the new hot thing, and keeping everything under one roof allows for the tech to be more synergistic.”

Mixer debuted in 2016 as Beam and was purchased by Microsoft that same year. In 2017, it was rebranded as Mixer. The following year, it rolled out a massive update to the platform, positioning it as a potential rival to Twitch. Mixer’s update debuted features such as chat, emojis and the ability for players to earn a virtual currency called Sparks that players can use to pay for Ninja’s stream. His stream is currently free for one month, but after that the price jumps to $5.99.

It’s become easier for Mixer to attract new talent because the barrier to entry is much lower when compared to Twitch, says Danielle Wiley, CEO of the Sway Group, an influencer-focused content marketing agency. “Mixer is included as an app on all Xbox consoles, so there’s no download required,” Wiley says. Also, for influencers, “it’s easier to build a following because there is less clutter; as a newer streaming platform, the competition is not as fierce as it is on Twitch.”

Below, what marketers need to know:

Ad buying

On Twitch, outside brands can buy a variety of ad units such as video, display and even customized ad units. But with Mixer, there is no ability to buy ads directly. Instead, brands that wish to advertise on the platform must work directly with the streamer. For instance: Red Bull could have Ninja drink its beverage on screen and promote its product, but it would have to contact Ninja directly and it wouldn’t be able to show display ads as he plays video games. Jan Vitturi-Lochra, an account director at digital agency The Shipyard, says he’s never considered this route on Mixer because it lacks quality streamers, which in turn affects scale. “That’s something Twitch and even YouTube Gaming have in abundance,” he says. Mixer pays certain streamers based on how long people watch their content. It’s similar to a CPM model, where streamers are paid per 1,000 impressions, but instead of showing ads, Mixer counts one “impression” for every 15 minutes someone spends watching their videos.

Seeking scale

Although it snagged a superstar streamer in Ninja, Mixer is relatively new. That’s bad news for marketers hellbent on scale, says Vitturi-Lochra. “When looking at streaming hours, Twitch accounts for 73 percent of consumption while Mixer is only at 3 percent,” he says. “Microsoft made a huge bet that Ninja could draw viewership.”

Cloud to the rescue

Microsoft has a potential advantage with its diverse product portfolio, which includes cloud services, with which it could use the back-end tech to blend both PC and console gamers. It also has a setup similar to Netflix, where players pay a flat monthly fee for unlimited access to hundreds of video games, including exclusives that only live on Xbox. Tom Edwards, chief innovation officer at Epsilon, says once Microsoft more tightly integrates these products with Mixer, it can mount a more serious challenge to Twitch and YouTube Gaming. The likely end game is to merge the PC and console- gaming communities through Microsoft’s cloud technology, helping bolster Mixer’s reach as it taps into both segments. “Microsoft is sitting in a great position,” says Edwards. “Bringing Ninja over is a good commitment to kick starting their move towards taking share.”