Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Twitch Should Make You Twitch

The most interesting article -- make that multiple articles -- I've read in the last week dealt with a technology development that, on the face of it, has nothing to do with health care.  It's the $970 million acquisition of an online service called Twitch, by Amazon  If you're like me, you may not have previously heard of Twitch, but you may want to read on to try to avoid being left behind.

Bear with me and I'll even try to loop it back to health care.

I wrote last year (Games (Some) People Play) about both how big the videogame industry is, and how "gamification" is coming to play a more important role in health care, such as in wellness programs.  Twitch is a whole another world removed: it doesn't have games for people to play, but rather allows people to watch others play them. 

We were worried about kids becoming couch potatoes due to their insatiable appetite for playing video games, but now we have people who don't even play the games, just watch others do so.

The NPD Group estimates that there are 34 million "core" gamers in the U.S., averaging 22 hours of gaming a week.  Twitch has garnered as many as 32 million viewers to watch single events -- e.g., the championship of something called the League of Legends -- and has over 55 million unique viewers.  Those viewers average over 20 hours per week watching other gamers.  TV and cable channels would drool for those kinds of numbers; not much on television except the Super Bowl pulls more viewers.

Watching videogames is so popular that viewers don't just watch on their computer; they actually show up in person to watch, filling arenas.  The New York Times wrote a long article on what it calls "e-sports," highlighting competitions that have as much as $11 million in prize money at stake and draw up to 73,000 spectators for an event.  The NFL should be looking over its shoulder.

Oh, and Twitch is fourth in U.S. Internet traffic, after Netflix,. Google, and Apple.  Still think this is just fun & games?

Google had originally tried to purchase Twitch -- for even more than Amazon ended up paying -- but the deal fell through.  Amazon is drooling over Twitch not just for those millions of eyeballs but also for the content and the array of shopping synergies it offers.  Google may try to combat Twitch with YouTube and/or Google TV, but experts say it won't be easy for them -- or other players -- to succeed.

It's not so hard to see the appeal of video-games -- not just how interactive they are but also the production values and attention to detail -- but what non-gamers (like me) may not realize is the social connectivity they generate.  Gamer generations thrive on social interaction; "Sharknado" wasn't a  hit (by SyFy Channel standards, anyway) because of its plot or acting, but because of the social media buzz it generated -- and encouraged.  That is increasingly becoming true of any TV show, movie, or other event. 

Why is any of this important for health care?  Let's say that you're in charge of marketing for your health care organization.  You probably do some print ads, maybe send out some fliers, and have radio/TV ads if you have a large enough budget.  You're proud that you've moved some of your efforts to online ads and/or email blasts, have a Facebook page, and maybe even are on Twitter.  But, seriously, do you think Twitch users will even see any of those efforts, much less form a positive impression of your organization?

I'll posit this: if you didn't know what Twitch was, or are still puzzled at its appeal, your organization is going to have a tough time competing over the next couple of decades.

For better or worse, our health care system is used to dealing with people from the so-called "Greatest Generation" and the Baby Boomers.   The former grew up with radio and watching movies in the local theaters, and were delighted to get broadcast TV in their houses.  In any case, they were used to not much content, and that content being dictated to them.  The Baby Boomers (of whom I am one) pride ourselves on being rebellious, but spent our formative years watching those limited broadcast TV options, at the specified times.  We were as delighted to get cable option as our parents were to get broadcast options.

It wasn't until Gen X/Gen Y that cable, with its much wider range of content options, was prevalent, and that VCRs allowed viewers some control over when they could watch what.  Gaming also started to become important as a media option.  But it was not until the Millennials that TiVo/DVRs plus streaming really put viewers in charge.  Equally as important was that channels like YouTube made user-generated content easy, and gaming went from isolated gaming consoles to Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOG).

And here we are at Twitch.

A health care system that has been built around people who have been brought up to passively accept content when it happens to be delivered is not going to fit a gamer generation.  I'm not just talking about content; I'm talking more generally about expectations.

I wrote in Always Fighting the Last War that health care has to adapt to these new expectations.  Content and services delivered when and where consumers want, on the platform of their choice, and in the manner they are used to.  I.e., highly interactive and capable of being supremely social.  It doesn't sound like much in health care, does it?

The auto industry is already terrified that Millennials don't care about cars, and are desperately trying to turn cars into yet another mobile gadget for them.  The housing, apparel, and -- oddly enough -- golf industries, to name a few, are also at a loss at how to appeal to them.  Health care needs to figure it out too, not just for the Millennials but also for the different perspectives that Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Gen Y are bringing.

It's not about how to gamify health care further (although I'm convinced that a videogame that accurately portrays the various challenges consumers can face in our health care system would be very eye-opening!) as it is for health care to identify what characteristics of younger generations that playing and watching videogames reveal.  We better get it right, because they're the ones who will increasingly be using and paying for health care (not to mention funding Medicare for Baby Boomers like me!)

My crystal ball isn't good enough to predict exactly how health care will have to change to suit these Twitch users and their peers, but I'm willing to bet that the organizations that do not will end up like the DuMont Television Network.  Haven't heard of them?  Exactly.


  1. I thought of another analogy, from the world of linguistics. When people are forced into a new language, the adults end up with a pidgin version that uses some of the words but lacks full grammar. Their children, though, create a "creole" language with words from both languages & full grammar, and which may end up as a dialect.

    Anyone born before, say, 2000 is basically using a pidgin approach to technology like streaming & social media - we can use them but don't fully understand them -- whereas the Millennials are fluent in them.

  2. Very thought provoking. Interesting and scary. I'll be sharing this with my oldest son who is a gamer and has logged countless hours watching Twitch. I fully expect him to say "see Dad, that's what I've been trying to tell you."

  3. Interesting and exciting. I see lots of potential for bed ridden patients and those spending countless hours in hospitals with loved ones to enjoy some sort of interactive experience - less about gaming, more about calming, inspiring, and healing. With the platform for Twitch, there is great potential to use the technology as art in healthcare.

  4. Microsoft's purchase of Minecraft (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/11/technology/in-hit-games-tech-giants-see-more-than-fun.html?ref=business) reiterates how gaming is playing an increasng role in our lives.