It is not breaking news that the gaming industry is booming all around the world. Technology and connectivity have created a new market with a global reach and a diverse target. This new media environment also comes with a trick. Gaming and esports are now competing with the TV+streaming industry for the most precious of the treasures: the audience’s time for entertainment.
The global pandemic and the shift to remote work/schooling engendered a captive audience that accelerated trends within the media and entertainment industry. Streaming video subscriptions climbed as households stacked subscriptions, driving revenues to over US$69 billion in 2020, according to ABI Research. Furthermore, during last year, gaming saw year-over-year growth of over 22%, with ISPs and CDNs reporting heavy traffic from game downloads. In total, the online video and gaming markets reached US$330 billion in 2020, the “Next-Gen Content and Services” market data report assures.
The global games live-streaming audience will reach 728.8 million by the end of 2021, a +10% increase over 2020’s audience. The pandemic has undoubtedly accelerated the growth of the live-streaming audience. Still, a stabilization is expected once the pandemic subsides, according to Newzoo’s “2021 Global E-sports and Live Streaming Market” report. The investigation revealed that audience growth rates would progressively return to their more natural levels by 2024 when the live streaming audience total hits 920.3 million. Nevertheless, emerging markets and regions will stay on their path of double-digit growth.
Mobile gaming’s popularity will also drive this growth in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, Central Southern Asia, APAC, and Southeast Asia. Countries in these regions (especially China) are pushing the streaming audience ever-closer toward the one-billion mark— a feat that seemed unfathomable even five years ago. Esports are also on track for healthy audience growth. The global esports audience will grow to 474.0 million in 2021, a year-on-year increase of +8.7%. Esports enthusiasts — those who watch more than once a month — will account for just under half of this number (234 million), also growing +8.7% year on year.
Moreover, a new study from Juniper Research has found that the total market value of digital content will reach $432 billion by 2026, rising from $211 billion in 2021. It represents a growth of 105% over the next five years. This value considers pay-per-download revenue, in-app content spend, subscription revenue, and ad spend over digital content. Juniper Research forecasts that there will be over 3.3 billion games users by 2026, rising from 2.7 billion in 2021. Publishers to capitalize on this growth by offering subscriptions that leverage extensive content partnerships to provide regularly updated content libraries that justify ongoing subscription costs.
How is the game-changer player in this context? Twitch. The leading live streaming platform is pulling in more significant numbers than hit network television shows. As big-name streamers and esports competitions rack up hundreds of thousands of concurrent viewers throughout the day, the total audience numbers for the video game and lifestyle streaming videos on Twitch are rivaling the viewership of mainstream media stalwarts like “The Bachelor”. Watching other people play video games while chatting with their audiences is becoming big business as Twitch grows.
Content producers and streaming platforms are well aware of the gaming boom. Although esports is primarily available for viewing online, televising live esports is not new. Over the past five years, several cable and broadcast networks have televised esports, including ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN Deportes, DisneyXD, Tyc Sports, TNT Sports, Claro Sports, NFL Network, TBS, CW, and even CBS. In July 2017, CBS televised Candy Crush Saga in prime time and averaged four million viewers. Last year, during the pandemic, more esports contests had been appearing on television. ESPN created a branded ESPN Esports Day, which included 12 hours of programming, including televised virtual games from Madden NFL20, Formula 1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix, Rocket League (which combines soccer with rocket-powered cars), and the opening round of a 16-team NBA 2K20 tournament event. For the NBA 2K20 tournament, players included NBA stars Kevin Durant, Donovan Mitchell, Trae Young, and the tournament winner, Devin Booker.
Moreover, Netflix is apparently looking to hire an executive to oversee its expansion into gaming, in a sign that it is ramping up efforts to grow beyond its traditional business as streaming competition intensifies. The streamer has experimented with interactive programming in the past with movies such as “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch” and “You vs. Wild,” which enabled viewers to decide the characters’ moves. It has also created games based on “Stranger Things” and “La casa de Papel”. For that reason, gaming-related content is expected to come from both Netflix-owned intellectual property and other independent studios. Netflix has, in the past, produced many programs based on video games, including Castlevania, Dragon’s Dogma, Minecraft: Story Mode, and The Witcher, with more expected in 2021 and 2022.
With launches from Disney, Comcast/NBCUniversal, WarnerMedia/Discovery, Amazon/MGM, and a rebrand from ViacomCBS, the streaming video market has suddenly become crowded. As a result, streaming video providers have begun to consolidate to build scale and remain competitive. In the streaming wars environment, gaming could be a catalyst to gain and retain subscribers. Each player is now working on new strategies and business approaches, and esports & gaming will definitely be a part of it.