Q&A

Building the ‘Comcast of Gaming’ at Amazon

Last week, 31-year-old Emmett Shear joined an exclusive club of tech startup founder/CEOs who agreed to sell their company for about $1 billion or more.

While his startup, the online video-game broadcaster Twitch, is just three years old, it had spun out of a different live-video site he helped launch in 2007. Twitch quickly became the preferred service for online video-game players to broadcast their games publicly and build an audience of followers.

At its peak, close to a million people watch broadcasts on Twitch at the same time, from “e-sports,” or competitions between professional Starcraft players, to Twitch Plays Pokemon, in which a role-playing game is controlled by the audience that’s viewing it on Twitch.

Mr. Shear earlier this year had agreed to sell the company to Google’s YouTube, but as The Information has reported, the $1 billion-plus deal fell apart amid questions over Twitch’s ability to operate as as it would like. Amazon.com was waiting in the wings.

Immediately after the acquisition was announced, Mr. Shear spoke on Twitch about possible integrations with the Amazon Prime subscription business, getting infrastructure help from Amazon Web Services, and using Amazon’s payment technology to bring on new subscribers in other parts of the world. But he is adamant that Twitch will maintain its independence.

In his first lengthy interview since the Amazon deal, Mr. Shear talked to The Information about why Amazon’s structure for subsidiaries is more appealing to him than YouTube’s, his interest in broadcasting non-game content and his effort to build the “Comcast of gaming.” An edited transcript is below.

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Competitors don’t matter. Competitors already exist unless you have a literal monopoly, which we clearly do not. The only thing we can do is stay focused on providing the best experience to broadcasters. How can I make you monetize your channel better? For us, it’s not really driven by our competitors fundamentally, it’s driven by how to we optimize the experience for our broadcasters. Weirdly you don’t get there by, ‘how do I beat that competitor.’ YouTube has had a live product for two years, three years, for a long time. We focus on live, YouTube focuses on [video on demand, not live broadcasting] and probably for very good reason. YouTube drives a huge amount of traffic to Twitch. In many ways YouTube is one of our best partners. Almost all the YouTube top gaming broadcasters also have Twitch channels. In many ways, weirdly, we’re not that competitive.


Hunter Walk commented on this article.
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