When the world fell into a lockdown last year, folks overwhelming set to livestreams to connect with others and ward off boredom while stuck in their homes. And the pandemic-driven growth shows no signs of slowing, even as the world tries to return to business as usual, with both Twitch and Facebook Gaming seeing record viewership in the first quarter of 2021, according to most recent numbers.
The popular live streaming software provider StreamLabs released its first quarterly report for the streaming industry for 2021 on Friday. Use of data compiled by streaming analytics company Stream Hatchet from early January to late March, it offers some interesting insights, most notably that Facebook Gaming is closing in on YouTube Gaming’s site for the # 2 most popular streaming service. First is the longtime leader Twitch, who still easily commands the largest piece of the market with more than 72% of the total number of hours seen this year.
If you (like me) never really got it for live streaming, you may be surprised to learn how massive the industry has become in such a short amount of time. On Amazon-owned Twitch, viewership, streaming hours, average number of concurrent viewers and number of channels have more than doubled since this time last year, StreamLabs said. Twitch broke its viewership record for the second consecutive quarter with users watching 6.3 billion hours of content, an increase of nearly 1 billion hours compared to Last quarter. The platform also experienced its largest quarterly increase in the number of streamed hours since the early days of the pandemic and jumped from approx. 230 million hours to 265 million.
While Twitch is best known for streaming video games, its most popular category remains “Just Chatting”. This category – considered the sequel to Twitch’s poorly defined “IRL” section, which was reconfigured into 13 different non-game categories in 2018 – involves exactly what the name suggests: Content where streamers simply hang out and chat with viewers or attendees in the real world world war.
“Just Chatting” provided a full 754 million hours seen in the first quarter of this year. To put this figure in 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.
Facebook Gaming and YouTube Gaming, which are owned by Google, continue to lag far behind Twitch, but the gap between them is rapidly narrowing. Facebook hit an impressive milestone in the past quarter, exceeding a billion hours viewed for the first time, nearly double the total viewership that the platform gained around this time last year.
“For the first time, we’re seeing Facebook Gaming and YouTube Gaming compete closely with each other in terms of viewership,” StreamLabs product manager Ashray Urs said in the report. “While the difference in viewership was approx. 1 billion Hours last quarter, the difference has dropped to approx. 300 million in the 1st quarter. There’s a chance we could see Facebook Gaming overtake YouTube Gaming in viewership next quarter. ”
StreamLabs attributes much of this success PUBG Mobile, Facebook Gaming’s most watched game category for at least the last two years. Users saw 254 million hours PUBG Mobile livestreams in the 1st quarter, an impressive year-on-year increase of 76%. Facebook Gaming absorbing Microsoft’s failed livestreaming platform Mixer last summer undoubtedly attracted lots of new talent and viewers wandering over.
YouTube Gaming was the only platform of the big three to experience a drop in viewership this quarter, a 28.6% drop from 1.92 billion hours to 1.37 billion hours. Both the total number of streamed hours and unique channels also decreased, but not so much (6.7% and 9.9%, respectively). Taking into account its year-on-year growth, however, YouTube Gaming does not appear to be doing half as well, as its overall viewership and average simultaneous viewership both increased by around 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 in the 1st quarter of this year.
We have reached out to Twitch, Google and Facebook for comment and will be sure to update this blog when we hear back.
All in all, it seems that live streaming platforms that are attracted during the pandemic are not dying down anytime soon, even though lockdowns promises, vaccines are rolling out, and people are starting to travel outside their homes more regularly again. But whether Facebook and YouTube’s live streaming services will ever pose any real threat to Twitch’s industry dominance remains to be seen.