Probably better known to most internet denizens more as an ad-filled SEO landing page for random images than its social functions, Pinterest has been trying to keep up with its titanic competitors with its own programs to financially incentivize creators. According to TechCrunch, it’s planning on running a three-day live event from May 24 to May 26 as the first major test of a built-in livestreaming function in its iOS and Android apps, complete with a comments stream and shopping plugin.
TechCrunch wrote that Pinterest streams will support up to three “guests” and no limit on viewers beyond, one supposes, whatever the company’s infrastructure can handle. The site wrote that Pinterest has enlisted 21 creators to contribute to the event, including celebrity hairdresser Jonathan Van Ness and fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff, for a number of commerce-focused segments not that different from what one might find on Instagram or YouTube:
Jonathan Van Ness‘ session will discuss morning rituals and self-care routines. Fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff will teach Pinterest users how to style their summer wardrobe. Others featured during the event include food creators GrossyPelosi and Peter Som, who will showcase favorite recipes; Women’s Health magazine will talk about using vision boards to achieve your goals; Jennifer Alba will show how to communicate the Zodiac through sign language; and Hannah Bronfman will offer ideas for creating an at-home spa night.
As of right now, TechCrunch reported, Pinterest hasn’t discussed its long-term plans for streaming, nor has it announced any of the other kind of monetization features (donations, tickets, subscriptions, brand partnerships) that makes its larger competitors lucrative for people with large followings. But there’s something to be said for the possibility for Pinterest creators to be a big fish in a small pond.
The company has also rolled out a “Creator Code” that asks personalities on the site to behave significantly better than the standards on its larger brethren like YouTube, aiming to cultivate an “inclusive and compassionate” atmosphere (though it’s had its own issues keeping anti-vaxxers and child sex abuse material off the site). It put together a $500,000 fund to pay out to a small pool of creators throughout 2021, a number that admittedly pales in comparison to that offered by companies like Snapchat and TikTok.
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As Engadget noted, this isn’t the first time Pinterest has experimented with livestreaming—it tested a feature called Class Communities last year, although that relied on Zoom to power the video aspect.
As the world descended into lockdown last year, people overwhelming tuned into livestreams to connect with others and stave off boredom while stuck in their homes. And that pandemic-fueled growth shows no signs of slowing down even as the world attempts to return to business as usual, with both Twitch and Facebook Gaming seeing record viewership in the first quarter of 2021, according to the latestnumbers.
The popular livestreaming software provider StreamLabs released its first streaming industry quarterly report for 2021 on Friday. Using data compiled by streaming analytics firm Stream Hatchet from the beginning of January to the end of March, it offers some interesting insights, most notably that Facebook Gaming is closing in on YouTube Gaming’s spot for the #2 most popular streaming service. In first place is long-time leader Twitch, which still easily commands the largest chunk of the market with more than 72% of the total hours of content watched this year.
If you (like me) never really got that into livestreaming, you may be surprised to learn just how massive the industry’s become in such a short time. At Amazon-owned Twitch, viewership, hours streamed, average concurrent viewership, and the number of channels have all roughly doubled since this time last year, StreamLabs said. Twitch broke its viewership record for the second quarter in a row with users watching 6.3 billion hours of content, an increase of almost 1 billion hours compared to last quarter. The platform also saw its single largest quarterly increase in hours streamed since the early days of the pandemic, jumping from roughly 230 million hours to 265 million.
While Twitch is most well known for streaming video games, its most popular category continues to be “Just Chatting”. This category—considered the successor to Twitch’s ill-defined “IRL” section, which was reconfigured into 13 distinct non-gaming categories in 2018—involves exactly what the name implies: Content where streamers simply hang out and chat with viewers or engage in real-world shenanigans.
“Just Chatting” racked up a whopping 754 million hours watched in Q1 this year. To put that figure into perspective, Grand Theft Auto V, the most-watched game on Twitch in 2021, had 536.3 million hours, with League of Legends not far behind at 534 million.
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Facebook Gaming and YouTube Gaming, which is owned by Google, continue to lag far behind Twitch, but the gap between them is quickly narrowing. Facebook hit an impressive milestone this past quarter, surpassing one billion hours watched for the first time, almost double the total viewership the platform garnered around this time last year.
“For the first time, we are seeing Facebook Gaming and YouTube Gaming closely compete against each other in terms of viewership,” said StreamLabs head of product Ashray Urs in the report. “While the difference in viewership was approximately 1 billion hours last quarter, that gap has shrunk to about 300 million in Q1. There is a chance we could see Facebook Gaming overtake YouTube Gaming in viewership next quarter. ”
StreamLabs attributes a lot of that success to PUBG Mobile, Facebook Gaming’s most-watched gaming category for at least the past two years. Users watched 254 million hours of PUBG Mobile livestreams in Q1, an impressive year-over-year increase of 76%. Facebook Gaming absorbing Microsoft’s failed livestreaming platform Mixer last summer no doubt attracted plenty of new talent and viewers that migrated over.
YouTube Gaming was the only platform of the big three that experienced a dip in viewership this quarter, down 28.6% from 1.92 billion hours to 1.37 billion hours. Both its total number of hours streamed and unique channels also fell, though not as much (6.7% and 9.9% respectively). However, taking into account its year-over-year growth, YouTube Gaming doesn’t seem to be doing half bad, as its total viewership and average concurrent viewership both increased by roughly 28%. The platform is also home to the most popular female streamer across all platforms: Valkyrae, whose content viewers watched for 12.2 million hours during Q1 this year.
We’ve reached out to Twitch, Google, and Facebook for comment, and will be sure to update this blog when we hear back.
All told, it seems the attention livestreaming platforms attracted during the pandemic isn’t dying down anytime soon even as lockdowns lift, vaccines roll out, and people start to journey outside their homes more regularly again. But whether Facebook and YouTube’s gaming livestreaming services will ever pose any real threat to Twitch’s industry dominance remains to be seen.
Facebook on Wednesday ran its first public beta test of Hotline — a web-based Q&A platform that seems like it was dreamed up as the platform’s answer to the current voice chat app craze.
More specifically, Hotline is designed to function as a sort of love child between Instagram Live and Clubhouse, TechCrunch reports: Creators will address an audience of users, who will then be able to respond by asking questions with either text or audio. Unlike Clubhouse — which is strictly an audio-only platform — Hotline users will have the option to turn their cameras on during events, adding a visual element to an otherwise voice-dominated experience.
Hotline is currently being developed by Facebook’s NPE Team, which handles experimental app development within the company, and is being led by Eric Hazzard, who created the positivity-focused Q&A app tbh that Facebook acquired before pivoting Hotline.
A public livestream of the app’s functionality on Wednesday was led by real estate investor Nick Huber, who spoke about industrial real estate as a second income stream — which should give you a pretty good idea about exactly what type of “creators” Hotline will be attempting to net once it’s live. Close observers of the stream will have noticed that Hotline’s interface closely resembles Clubhouse’s, in that the speaker’s icon is situated atop or astride an “audience,” which is populated by listeners whose profiles appear below the livestream (on the desktop version, the audience is off to the side).
Where the app differs from Clubhouse is in its functionality for “audience” members, who will see the questions they ask appear in a list at the top of the stream which other users can then choose to upvote or downvote. The creator will also have the option to pull listeners onto the “stage” area to join them in a back and forth, which will be something closer to Zoom in nature than its audio-only forebears.
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In a statement on Wednesday, Facebook declined to offer specific details about a launch date for Hotline, but said that developers have been encouraged to see how new multimedia features and formats “continue to help people connect and build community.”
“With Hotline, we’re hoping to understand how interactive, live multimedia Q&As can help people learn from experts in areas like professional skills, just as it helps those experts build their businesses,” a Facebook spokesperson said.
A blue car pulls up to a stop sign. Against all odds, it briefly, miraculously comes to a halt. Twitch chat goes ballistic. Numerous people spam “I was here” as pogchamp emotes flood in. This is Stopsigncam, a Twitch channel that suddenly has over 125,000 followers even though it’s just a camera trained on a single neighborhood intersection in Salem, Massachusetts.
Ideally, every car would stop at the sign, but that would ruin the fun. Stopsigncam’s stream title says it all: “98.73% of vehicles don’t stop.” That’s almost certainly an estimate, but if you watch the stream, it really is incredible how few drivers stop—or even pretend like they’re maybe going to do a halfhearted roll-through stop. Most drivers just pass right on by, despite how precariously close they come to getting into wrecks with other drivers. It’s an entirely unnecessary game of chicken that makes for weirdly riveting viewing, especially with chat yelling out every stop and non-stop its collective Eye of Sauron sees, doling out nicknames to cars, making memes, and establishing an ever-expanding lexicon of terms like “rollers” and “zoomers.” It’s like watching a gigantic esports event, only it’s cars passing by some rando’s front yard.
With the channel suddenly exploding in popularity, the Stopsigncam stream has also grown more eventful. Earlier this week, somebody got out of their car and did a backflip for the camera. Other people showed up one night and had a lightsaber duel. In just the past few hours today, a viewer walked up to the sign, identified himself in chat, and removed a sticker from the sign, which had previously been applied by some miscreant who sought to deface its purity (or do some advertising). Not long after, two other obvious stream snipers held up unreadable signs of their own while standing next to the stop sign. Some have speculated that the police now use the stream as a means of monitoring the stop.
The stream has a strange sort of intrinsic appeal, but that alone did not propel it to such absurd heights. According to longtime fans, it’s been running since at least last year, but it averaged single-digit viewer numbers, when it had any viewers at all. Then, over the weekend, a couple things happened: The stream got some play on Twitch drama hive turned kingmaker r/Livestreamfail, and probably most importantly, a big name, 100 Thieves intern JhbTeam, promoted the stream to his audience. First he tweeted about it, but it wasn’t until he created a TikTok on Monday that things got out of hand.
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“At first, I thought it’d just be a little fun joke between me and my audience on Twitter for only [one] night, because I deleted my tweet hours later,” Jhb told Kotaku in a DM. “When people actually stayed and watched it throughout the night, it made me want to create the TikTok to see if I could make it bigger. I went to bed that night when it had 400 viewers, and woke up to 4,000 viewers as well as my TikTok having 800k views in only a few hours. I’m very happy with the result of the TikTok because it was my ultimate goal to make it popular, and it became more popular than I imagined.”
The TikTok, which implores “bored” viewers to check out the stream and gives a rapid-fire summary of its appeal, now has over 2 million views. Ever since it caught on, Stopsigncam has had a consistent audience of 1,000-3,000 concurrent viewers 24 hours a day. So, for those keeping score, this all came about because a streamer made a tweet and TikTok about somebody else’s Twitch stream. Oh, and he recounted all of this in a YouTube video, as well.
The owner of the channel ended up giving Jhb moderation privileges, which he occasionally exercises to keep the chat he personally turned into an avalanche of screams from getting too rowdy, despite how busy he is working for a major gaming organization: “Since I was the first person in the stream and I was a verified user, the owner put trust into me and gave me moderation privileges,” Jhb said. “I’ll usually have the stream open on the side and if I see an inappropriate message or anything that could link to the location, I’ll ban that user.” (Kotaku reached out to Stopsigncam’s owner, who declined to answer questions for the time being, as well as a couple moderators, who did not reply in time for publication.)
“First personin the stream” might be a stretch, given that others claim to have been watching Stopsigncam for a little while now. One, a writer and financial analyst named Daniel Connolly, says he found the stream last year in Twitch’s travel and outdoors category. “I often leave location cams on as background while I work,” he told Kotaku in a DM. “I really started watching this stream during the winter, during a snowstorm.”
As a (relatively) longtime viewer, Connolly said he’s “happy” for Stopsigncam’s owner, but the growth spurt hasn’t impacted his viewing habits, since it’s all just background for him. Others, however, worry that in its transition from obscure curiosity to sensational stream sniper target, Stopsigncam has already lost something essential. One of those people is a viewer who goes by the handle Ilikecorndogs. Buoyed by his love of chat’s reactions to last-second stops and stunts like the aforementioned lightsaber duel, he created a subreddit for the Stopsigncam stream earlier this week. Now, though, he’s on the verge of being done with it.
“Honestly, after two days of knowing about [Stopsigncam], I’ve already grown out of it,” he told Kotaku in a DM. “I might hop into a stream here or there, but I feel like it grew too much out of a quirky stream in the corners of Twitch I was told about one night.”
Watching so many people show up during today’s stream clearly aware of the camera, it’s not hard to see where he’s coming from. Some Twitch sensations stick around and evolve into institutions. Others are just bizarre little moments. Before you know it, they’re over, because they were never meant to be anything else.
There are also more practical concerns: It has not been difficult for locals to figure out where Stopsigncam’s stop sign cam is positioned. What happens if somebody doxxes its owner? PC builder and streamer Robert “OD_Technology” O’Donnell, who says he was one of a few people who were involved in the lightsaber fights, doesn’t think it will come to that, but he acknowledges that it’s possible.
“We were able to find [the house] because we hang out in the bars [in] the area, but we won’t tell specifically where it is,” he told Kotaku in a DM. “I put up a Facebook post asking where or who it was, but I took it down immediately after thinking about it because we want it to be fun and not a risk… I really hope [the stream lasts] because the guy deserves it, but if locals ruin it, it will be on them and not him.”
He’s optimistic about the stream’s chances, though: “I think it will last a long time,” he said.
The whole moment has remained remarkably wholesome so far, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will stay that way, with thousands of people tuning in to watch the daily lives of hundreds of unknowing others. Despite watching for longer than most, Connolly thinks Stopsigncam feels temporary—like a brief roll-through rather than what the unmissable red sign tells everybody to do.
“I assumed people would have moved on by now,” he said. “I suppose it’ll last as long as the chat stays active and friendly. It feels like an ephemeral moment in a tiny, weird corner of the internet.”
Instagram is expanding its livestreaming offerings with a new feature dubbed Live Rooms, which is just like Instagram Live but with up to three more people haphazardly broadcasting their thoughts into the world simultaneously.
Instagram’s Live Rooms add to the increasingly crowded livestreaming space, which includes everything from Twitch to TikTok, to audio-only Clubhouse and Twitter’s Spaces. And because most of us have absolutely no business livestreaming for any reason, it also represents an increasing focus on social media geared towards professional creators, celebrities, and brands while creating new moderation challenges for the platforms themselves.
The functionality of Live Rooms is simple and straightforward. From the home screen on Instagram, swipe left and select the Live option. You can add a title and then tap on the users who you’d like to include. Live Rooms also lets the person who launches the stream to add “guests” to join them mid-broadcast: “for example, you could start with two guests, and add a surprise guest as the third participant later! 🥳,” Instagram writes in its press release about the feature.
In an attempt to limit harassment and other problematic behavior, any user who’s blocked by a Live Room participant will not be able to view the stream. And any Instagram user who’s been blocked from going live on the platform won’t be able to join as a Live Room guest. Comments can also be blocked, reported, and filtered, just as is the case for the solo Live feature.
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Another feature that carries over from Live is badges, which Live Room viewers can buy for between $1 and $5 to make their usernames look extra special in chat.
Of course, as lovely as surprise guests and Badge bling might sound, this is the internet we’re talking about. And on the internet, terrible things happen constantly in ways that remain both shocking and entirely predictable. While various third-party tools for live video moderation exist, most automatic moderation tools are geared toward text, as Reuters recently reported. It’s possible Instagram could use live transcription tools to help moderate some problematic broadcasts, as Twitter is reportedly “looking into” for Spaces moderation. Or it could go the Chatroulette route and use AI to clean up certain dirty streams.
In an email, an Instagram spokesperson said the company is “working on other moderator controls and audio features, which we’ll be launching in the coming months. Something that’s been highly requested by our Live creators is more controls for moderators/hosts of the broadcasts.” But some hosts will surely encourage rather than forbid problematic content. And even if a live broadcast gets taken down mid-stream, that doesn’t mean it’s gone.
Facebook, which owns Instagram, knows this all too well: In 2019, a shooter livestreamed the massacre of Muslim worshipers at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, using its live broadcast feature. While the company claims the original livestream was viewed “fewer than 200 times” during the broadcast and “viewed about 4000 times in total before being removed from Facebook,” Facebook (and many other social platforms) scrambled to remove copies of the horrific mass murder. Of the 1.5 million copies of the view that Facebook says was uploaded to its platform, some 300,000 copies were able to make it through its filters.
In aftermath of the 17-minute video spreading online, a Muslim advocacy group in France sued Facebook and YouTube for, as the complaint states, “broadcasting a message with violent content abetting terrorism, or of a nature likely to seriously violate human dignity and liable to be seen by a minor.” New Zealand, meanwhile, prosecuted several people for distributing or possessing the video, under a human-rights law that forbids the dissemination of terrorist propaganda or content that could “excite hostility against” people or groups based on their race, ethnicity, or national origin.
Beyond the extreme example of the Christchurch video, Live Rooms creates more opportunity for the spread of disinformation, misinformation, and other plights of our interconnected world. Facebook clearly has the ability to penalize users who violate its rules on livestreams, and it will almost certainly use those tactics to keep tabs on Live Rooms as well. But with livestreams on Instagram reportedly booming as we all remain socially distant, it’s all but guaranteed something horrible will slip through the cracks. And as the Christchurch tragedy exemplified, it only takes one to further spread terrorist propaganda or other dangerous content to anyone looking to find it.
It’s of course easy to criticize some new feature based on the worst possibilities, and I’m sure there will be plenty of fitness teachers, musicians, and beauty vloggers who create useful broadcasts that make the world just a bit less miserable during this miserable pandemic era. But until Facebook, Instagram, and other platforms get moderation of all types under control, it’s hard to not assume we’ll wake up one day to news that Live Rooms has become the latest hotbed of something dangerous and deranged.
Social HygieneSocial HygieneThe internet is hell, particularly social media. In this series, we discuss the ways it’s flawed and how it could be better.
There’s a new type of livestream building steam: It’s called VTubing, and for many people, it might only exist as thumbnails in YouTube’s recommended videos section. But VTubing is way more involved than just clips that feature kawaii anime avatars. It’s an important evolution of our social media landscape.
Until fairly recently, VTubing was a relatively niche social media trend confined to Japanese internet culture. For the unfamiliar, VTubing is essentially livestreaming, but instead of showing your own face you rely on a digital anime avatar. The origins of VTubing can be largely traced back to Kizuna Ai, an online persona voiced by Nozomi Kasuga. Kizuna Ai quickly gained nearly 1 million YouTube subscribers following her debut in late 2016, with videos ranging from Lets Plays to art sessions to “yoga” tutorials. Kizuna was producing the same kind of content you’d see on Twitch, just with a virtual avatar instead of actual face and body.
In 2019, VTubing’s popularity really started picking up steam due to the growth of VTuber agencies such as Nijisanji, .Live, and most notably Hololive, whose founder Motoaki Tanigo (better known as Yagoo) once described Hololive as a streamer group similar to Japanese female pop group AKB48. Well, at least that was the plan. In reality, Hololive produced streamers that were much more engaging and personal than the super polished pop idol groups from ye olden times. The effect is a livestream mixed with anime augmented by curated personas with deep backstories that are almost like what you’d get from a WWE wrestler, but way way cuter. Calli isn’t just a pink-haired binge drinker, she’s an ageless (semi-retired) Death God with hopes and dreams of making it big on Earth.
VTubing is both a twist on an existing medium and something completely new at the same time.
Outside of Japan,VTubing exploded last year when Hololive added its first generation of English-speaking streamers to its existing Japanese and Asian cast, exposing the trend to millions of people in the U.S., Canada, and elsewhere. So between a novel type of social content being ported over to a new language (with a much larger population) combined with people being stuck at home turning to the internet for entertainment, the popularity of Hololive’s new English roster skyrocketed. Member Gwar Gura not only became the first Hololive idol to hit 1 million subscribers on YouTube, but also the first member to hit 2 million subs—all in a little over six months. Gura isn’t just speed, she’s lighting in a bottle.
On one hand, the idea of using anime avatars controlled by a variety of eye, face, and even body-tracking techniques might seem strange or even somewhat foreboding (like that one episode out of Black Mirror), but in a lot of ways VTubing is a natural reaction to today’s social media landscape.
More and more kids are turning toward content creation not only as a way to grab their 15 minutes of fame, but as a real career path. However, the rise of livestreaming also brings the pitfalls of internet stardom, including a loss of privacy. By putting an avatar between the creator and the viewer, VTubers have a much easier time of keeping personal things that don’t impact their stream truly private. And if they want to share details about past jobs, relationship status, or family connections with others, they can do so without risking public intrusion into the lives of people they care about. Avatars obscuring their identities still leaves plenty of room for genuinely wholesome moments like when Pekora revealed she’s a VTuber to her mom.
VTubing allows for a certain level of both privacy and personality, even if the latter is a somewhat over-produced and manufactured one. But I ask you, in a time when mostfamous gamers are better recognized by their in-game handle than their real name, is using an animated avatar all that different? I would even argue that VTubing feels more genuine than so-called “reality TV.” There’s way less editing, and while there are producers who help big VTubers out behind the scenes, there aren’t directors or publicists guiding every interaction.
VTubers are still normal people on the other side of the screen, their avatar is simply their makeup. And as an added bonus, the use of avatars allows VTubers to focus better on their talents, whether drawing, singing, rapping, or making absolutely foul ramen recipes (I’m warning you, this video is not for people with weak stomachs).
VTubing fans have desmonstrated that they understand their favorite creators’ need for privacy and desire to establish boundaries. Fans across forums often advise others not to doxx or reveal a VTuber’s real identity. So far it seems to be working, because while some serious internet sleuthing may turn up some sensitive info, the biggest leak so far resulted when an online news story revealed Subaru’s real face. Even when Kizuna Ai’s original actor was revealed, it took almost four years to happen and it was officially announced long after the role of Kizuna Ai had been handed off to new candidates.
The use of a digital avatar allows people who might be shy, anxious, or embarrassed to create videos more freely. There’s huge pressure on people to look or act the perfect way on video, to the point where many people on social mediaare plucked or airbrushed into oblivion. But for VTubers, you can simply roll out of bed, put your “face” on, and go about your day. It’s anonymous and accessible without forcing people to become an overly primped talking head.
While VTubing might seem awkward or even cringeworthy to the unfamiliar viewer, it’s also very much a product of our times and technology. It blends what people already love about livestreaming with increased accessibility and added protection to help respect a content creator’s privacy. And with avatars this responsive and animated, VTubing is only going to get bigger.