Refinery29 is launching a weekly show on Twitch, aiming to feature the stories of women creators in gaming. Twitch can be inimical to brands as gamers react badly to inauthenticity – so do the benefits of doing it right outweigh the risk of doing it wrong?
On the evening of Thursday 29 September, the Refinery29 team went live for the first time on Twitch with its new magazine show. An audience of 13,000 opened the livestreaming platform to watch the first episode of a new show from the women-focused media channel, one that set the tone for the weekly broadcasts to follow.
It follows a number of magazine shows that have launched under the category of ‘Just Chatting’ on Twitch. The difference with Refinery29’s new show – ‘GG’ – is that it instead speaks to the habits of the existing Twitch audience, rather than attempting to create new viewing behaviours.
Melissah Yang is entertainment director for Refinery29, and a frequent Twitch streamer herself. She explains: “But what I’ve seen in terms of other media brands that are out there right now, they’re really approaching it as a traditional cable news broadcast approach. They’re treating it as a two hour show.
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“But we’re really positioning this as much as a live talk show. There are opportunities for media brands to explore and have fun, and really tap into the IRL content that actually makes up so much of what Twitch does.”
She says much of that is predicated on the growing recognition that women make up a huge proportion of gamers. That provides Refinery29 with an opportunity to speak directly to that audience about a subject matter that has not always been marketed to women, and the livestreaming format allows it to do so in an interactive manner.
Yang argues that the Twitch show is a natural extension of its existing coverage, but in an interactive format that matches where its audience seeks out gaming content: “If you look at the trend in the gaming industry in the last year, everybody’s really trying to change and expand the definition of who a gamer is and what gamer identity is. And that’s obviously something that we’ve tapped into with our coverage and with our stories.”
Yang acknowledges that Twitch has been having a rough time appealing to its core audience lately. Its recent revision of revenue share with top creators and changes to how payments are handled has caused waves in the Twitch creator community. At the same time, both Facebook Gaming and YouTube have been putting money into luring creators to their platforms.
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But, Yang says, Twitch is still the foremost livestreaming platform for the GG audience and has a history of community interaction that is not yet present on those other services. Crucially, she believes, it is a melting pot that acknowledges that gaming demographics have interests outside of video and tabletop games:
“Twitch is known as kind of a place for gamers. But gamers’ interests are wide and varied. Like I could care about Rihanna performing at the Superbowl halftime, but also care about abortion rights. I could care about Hailey Bieber, like what she has on her nails, but I can also care about social-cultural issues and Black Lives Matter. We are not one individual monolithic type of person. And I think our channel really can be positioned to speak to all the different interests of gamers.”
Yang states that the focus on audience is paramount with the new channel. She says that commercial success is always welcome – and this new channel will undoubtedly add something to Refinery29’s advertising and partnership opportunities – but that the priority is on building an audience on Twitch, to begin with.
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That is, in part, due to the inclemency with which gamers respond when they feel a brand is talking to them from a position of inauthenticity or ignorance. Yang argues: “So many brands I see would talk about having these partnerships with car companies or workout gyms or programs or apps. Gamers have a really keen sense of authenticity. They know when they’re being spoken at, or when they’re being fed something, versus it being very natural and endemic to the space.”
For Refinery29, then, the strategy is not ‘if you build it they will come’. Instead, it is a natural evolution of its existing editorial content, but on a platform on which much of its audience is already choosing to consume content. As livestreaming – particularly IRL content – continues to increase its share of audiences’ time, it is very likely that other publishers and brands will choose to launch on platforms like Twitch. The trick, as Refinery29 seeks to prove, is in doing it authentically.