This feature is the first in a series of articles exploring how leading streaming competitors are approaching the expanding market.
As games streaming and eSports broadcasting becomes an ever-enlarging market, we talk to leading competitors about their tactics.
As the "leading brand" in streaming, Twitch, shows consistent growth and a clear market dominance, competitors need to diversify and innovate to earn their keep.
Just as YouTube quickly became the mainstay of user-generated video content on the internet, forcing others to fringe or niche markets, Amazon’s acquisition seems set to repeat history.
However, among the alternative platforms for streamers and eSports broadcasters to choose from, disruptive plans are at hand to keep competition alive in front of and behind the scenes.
DingIt.tv, launched in Beta in October, embodies the spirit of a start-up: Technology-led with fast tacks in direction to account for changing user demand.
Adam "Madals" Simmons is a StarCraft 2 caster who now manages the eSports focus of DingIt, and he is very realistic about the nature of competing against the goliath of Twitch.
"We’re trying to sit quite nicely in the middle ground between being open to everyone and also putting on our own premium content," he told eSports Pro. "So we’re doing an awful lot of eSports content which really started ramping up in February."
Focusing on small, regular contests for the lower-tiered players, Simmons hopes that DingIt can fill that gap between playing for fun and in front of 40,000-strong crowds. This mission statement, shared with competition platform FACEIT which organises leagues and microtournaments for semi-professional players, aims to provide an option for those without an audience or brand to grow one.
One of the key targets for this is to bring sponsors to the table. "If we can pull sponsors on board it’ll obviously really help," Simmons said. "It’ll help content partners if we can act as an intermediary between sponsors and them to help them get funders on board, build their network and get some b2b skills that some broadcasters need some help with, to be able to grow their own brand on the channel as well."
But even before outside help, the company’s core ethos comes into play, due to some technical advancements in DingIt’s back-end. "We use a different streaming protocol, a more efficient routing of the streaming data from the broadcaster to the viewers," Simmons said. "There’s no p2p involved and the end result is from the viewer’s perspective there is only 4-6 seconds of stream delay."
Other advantages of the technology – which is a closely-guarded and patented intellectual property – are that the viewer experience is unchanged by the operating load of the site. "Whether we’ve got ten or ten thousand broadcasters live at any point, everyone gets that irrespective of the number of users live," Simmons said.
The core element of the technology is the lack of reliance on server farms – something Twitch makes heavy use of, given Amazon’s proprietary AWS system. The reduction in downstream bitrate for viewers makes regions outside of Europe and North America, those further from Twitch nodes, a high-priority target audience.
"The way DingIt’s technology works means that people in South America, Australia, Asia can get much better quality on DingIt compared to an alternative platform, just because of how the technology works," Simmons said. "That’s a huge market for growth we’re excited about and one which we’ve already had great first-hand feedback from."
In addition, not using costly farms allows DingIt to give every stream the ability to change quality settings, as opposed to just partners. This adherence to equality across the service’s users extends to providing everyone a subscription button from day one, as well as a built-in donation system.
"Every broadcaster, from one viewer to 100,000 viewers, has access to those," Simmons said. "The only thing we tier in terms of partnership is ad revenue share, and that’s very cut and dry. There’s set markers of the number of followers on your channel to directly correlate to the percentage revenue share we are able to provide. And they are substantially higher than other platforms due to the cost savings of our tech and the ability to run the company cheaper. There’s a lot more money to share with content partners."
Simmons sees this as the route to getting smaller, less viable events onto a platform that can support them. The low Cost-Per-Thousand (CPM) advertising rates of sites like Twitch prevent tournament organisers from turning a profit through them. He sees DingIt as a way to help a lot more people make a career out of streaming.
It is an approach that appears to have gelled well with investors so far, as investment group Black Green Capital saw fit to award the service $1.5m in funding in April. However, Simmons is more concerned with how users see the service than Big Finance.
In February, during DingIt’s big eSports push, many internet communities – mainly Reddit – began expressing dislike for the site’s practices. They cited multiple problems, from the resource intensive local app DingIt’s streaming technology relies on, to concerns over what the app was transmitting from their PC.
"Obviously there’ll be some teething problems and as it’s new technology and patented intellectual property we can’t open up the source code so all the reddit detectives to take a look at it," Simmons said. "But what we have is going to take time, we’re definitely in this for the long haul, we know it’s going to be a gradual sustained growth which is actually what we want. We don’t need a critical mass suddenly getting everyone onto the platform. And because of that we can just let the proof be in the pudding and ask people to take a look and slowly we are seeing more traction."
Growing a reputation is as important as growing a userbase, for DingIt. Simmons took great pride in how the service handled events in February, paying every tournament prize money within seven days and, as a start-up should, taking criticism on-board and changing tack. The desktop app is being worked on and replaced to appease those worried about data privacy, and an FAQ added to the website about what the app does.
"Once you start getting that track record that everyone’s paid, everyone gets what they deserve, no-one’s been arrested by the NSA or anything like that, quickly the naysayers and conspiracists start hushing down a bit and people who enjoy the platform and our content become a bit more positive about it," Simmons said. "Any constructive criticism we take on board as quickly as we can and that’s one of the joys of being a new platform, we can be very dynamic with how we adjust things."
The other advantages of DingIt starting small and growing slow also lie in their technology, which Simmons says can scale nicely with growth.
"It’s quite easy to forget Twitch was just bought for a billion dollars by Amazon, it seems like so much money that they’re this massive company, but in reality they have huge expenses," Simmons said. "So in terms of profitability, for many years they weren’t making any money, they were losing tons.
"Look at Own3d which went under, that was purely because they ran out of money and couldn’t get any more investors to step in to get them to that critical mass they needed. It means we’re on a more stable footing, we can build a foundation first and build up from there, as opposed to other platforms which have to try and go big from the word go, which isn’t how any content creator builds up."
Having started out his career as a YouTuber, Simmons knows better than most the trajectory DingIt is aiming for. "You don’t get a million views on your first video, you build a few more subscribers every week, get a couple hundred more views on the channel every month. And it’s really nice, in DingIt, following that approach and just building as we want to, and growing in a sustainable way instead of going for the big bang which will either work or it won’t."
This feature is part of a series of interviews with major streaming service providers on their competing strategies and business ethos.