APR Class Prepares Students for “the New Normal” of Live Entertainment

May 21, 2020

Even before the coronavirus outbreak, the streaming platform Twitch was quickly growing as an advertising market. The service had 127 million unique viewers worldwide in 2019 and was poised to continue to grow in 2020.

Then the pandemic happened, and shelter in place regulations led many people to join Twitch for the first time, while still more turned up their streaming numbers. According to TwitchTracker, since late February, users have broadcast over 200 billion hours of footage. For reference, that’s 230,000 years of footage.

NASCAR, the NBA and Major League Baseball have also leaned heavily into Twitch for content, with the latter showcasing one player from all 30 teams playing “The Show 20” in what they called “The Players’ League.” During last week’s finals, the Rays’ Blake Snell, an active Twitch user, defeated Lucas Giolito of the White Sox. ESPN broadcasted an NBA 2K tournament with active NBA players, which was won by the Suns’ Devin Booker.

Started in 2011, Twitch has experienced exponential growth over the past nine years as a video game streaming platform, but in the last few years, the service has expanded to include live events, original programming and an entire new market to be targeted by advertising, marketing and public relations professionals. As such, the College has been teaching students ways to utilize Twitch for two years in advertising and public relations instructor Randall Huffaker’s APR 490 class, a special topics course.

“It’s really about the content marketing,” said Huffaker. “Twitch is just the platform. It allows you to create whatever you want to create. It’s not about gaming, gaming is just one piece of it.”

In the class, students get hands-on experience operating a branded Twitch channel, including streaming video gameplay, but also live entertainment and original content. In March, Encore, the live music program from the department of journalism and creative media, was live-streamed on Huffaker’s class’s Twitch channel.

The best way to prepare for this kind of new platform is for students to be hands-on. This allows them to control content, analyze metrics for what works, and adjust as needed. Simulations can only tell part of the story and will leave students short-changed at the end. More than that, students can follow passion projects and create whatever content they want to share with the audience.

“More and more industry experts see Twitch as more than a video game streaming service, they see it as a place to share ideas,” Huffaker said. An example Huffaker shared was a man in China who, at 4 o’clock in the morning, was sharing his religion to an audience of 400,000 people.

This is a global shift. In the United States, Twitch’s overall content is 95 percent gaming-focused. Outside of the United States, gaming only makes up 5 percent of Twitch’s content. For the other 95 percent outside the U.S., Twitch is an interactive forum to learn together and teach other people about personal interests. That’s the focus of Huffaker’s class.

“The hardest thing so far is trying to have a structure where they’re always creating stuff. It doesn’t just have to be gaming,” Huff said, focusing on the content marketing component. “When you get a steady mix of kids, you get them interested in many different things.”

Each semester, gaming makes up less of the class content. In his first semester teaching this class, Huffaker said it was all gaming. Now, three semesters later, it’s down to 80 percent. Original content topics have ranged from live music to college success tips to breakdowns of the latest episode of “The Bachelor.” The goal is for students to find a passion and build and nurture their own audience.

Huffaker wants to see the class continue to grow on campus. As a special topics class, Huffaker’s class is open to all of campus, including current students from engineering and health and human services. One area he’d like to see the Twitch channel expand is with the University Athletics Department, showing programs like The Nick Saban Show, or sports like wheelchair basketball, hockey and women’s soccer.

“People want to see content,” Huffaker said. Word is spreading on campus about the class, partly due to Huffaker’s efforts to spread the word and partner with other organizations and departments, and people are joining to build their own brands and create.

“I try to avoid lectures, outside of the first few weeks of class,” Huffaker said. “I just want them to create. It’s just up to them to find that passion and go to work.”

In the absence of traditional sports, many people around the world have turned to Twitch for entertainment and content, and the platform has garnered a much bigger audience, which in turn has led to more sponsors and a greater platform for future marketers. Twitch provides opportunities for both content creators and public relations professionals and marketers to reach a wider audience. Thanks to the dedicated C&IS faculty staying ahead of industry trends, students will be prepared to thrive in the world of “the new normal.”