Amazon’s Twitch scored mainstream attention last year thanks to the rise of Fortnite and professional gamer Tyler “Ninja” Blevins. And as is the case for many emerging markets, a new competitor, backed by a major media company, is quietly gaining traction among video-game streamers.
Caffeine offers gaming enthusiasts another place to stream their own gameplay or watch and chat with other gamers. Founded by former Apple TV designers Ben Keighran and Sam Roberts in April 2016, the startup has since raised $146 million, most recently securing a $100 million investment from 21st Century Fox in September 2018. Caffeine is co-owned by New Fox, the company that holds Fox’s remaining assets following the Disney acquisition, per Variety. Caffeine has grown to about 70 employees, according to LinkedIn, though it has remained rather quiet on the marketing front.
Amazon’s Twitch is still the most prominent livestreaming platform for gamers, with more than 3 million streamers per month in 2018. Ninja alone has more than 12.5 million followers on Twitch and nearly 40,000 paying subscribers, per CNN. Caffeine’s user base remains relatively small: This month has been Caffeine’s best month yet for downloads with about 20,500 since Jan. 21, according to Apptopia. The mobile analytics firm shared that Caffeine has accumulated about 142,000 downloads on iOS since its June 2017 launch; the app’s Google Play page says it has more than 5,000 downloads.
But features such as low latency in streams and the small community have begun to draw people to Caffeine, streamers said. Caffeine did not respond to a request for comment.
“I tend to alternate between Twitch and Caffeine because I have a steady amount of viewers, but the difference I have between the two is with Twitch I feel I can add more personality to my streams with bots, overlays and extensions. Where on Caffeine, things are more simplified so that I don’t have to worry about too much and just stream while having fun with the viewers,” said Silver, who requested to go by a pseudonym. (His handle on Twitch and Caffeine is Silverwolf77.)
Another benefit of Caffeine is its lower latency compared to Twitch. Laura Redman, a user of both Twitch and Caffeine, said she immediately noticed Caffeine’s “quicker response time” when she joined the app a few months back to watch one of her favorite gamers, Ohmwrecker. (On Jan. 21, Ohmwrecker, who has more than 367,000 followers on Twitch, tweeted he reached 20,000 followers on Caffeine.)
“Compared to Twitch, there wasn’t that much of a delay. Of course, when Ohm started streaming, we broke Caffeine probably about 10 times,” Redman said.
Publishers, meanwhile, are still keeping Caffeine at an arm’s length, waiting to see if the platform gains traction with users before committing meaningful time and resources toward it. There are no ad options within Caffeine for brands currently.
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Jon Steinberg, CEO of Cheddar, said he’s found the community on Caffeine to be “friendly” and the app overall to be “pretty safe for kids to be on.” As for Cheddar, which actively streams on Twitch, Steinberg said the company has tested streaming on Caffeine, but has since paused that in part due to lack of sophistication in encoding video.
“If Caffeine wants to launch a slate of sports news shows, if we can be next to CNET and GameSpot, nothing would make me happier. With the Fox investment, if Caffeine decides they want content from professional news outlets, we’re interested,” Steinberg said.
And with Fox being an investor, media companies see an opportunity for Caffeine to grow. Will Jamieson, CEO of livestreaming app The Q, said he became interested in the app shortly after the Fox investment. Rupert Murdoch’s News UK also partnered with The Q as part of the company’s bet on the future of TV.
Caffeine’s “focus on low latency livestreaming allows them to have a more interactive and real-time platform to boost streamer-to-audience engagement. Their strategic alliance with the Murdochs and New Fox, which includes Fox Sports, gives them access to content that other platforms would need to pay millions for,” Jamieson said.
Unlike on Twitch, Caffeine viewers cannot see the number of people in a stream — only the broadcaster can. Of course, the streamer could share that information with the viewers. Eric Finney, national sales executive at the Associated Press, said he found it interesting that he was the only person watching one stream on Caffeine.
“I’ve watched a few streams of Fortnite players on there. I don’t know if it is better than Twitch, but entertaining. On Caffeine, I streamed some new people who were pretty entertaining,” Finney said.
There are some improvements streamers would like Caffeine to make, including around moderation tools. Redman, who just started streaming on Caffeine this month, said she wished streamers had more control on the app.
“For me, as a streamer, I wish Caffeine had some sort of [moderation] system put in like Twitch does to help with crowd control. You can block someone, but Caffeine’s staff has the ultimate say on what happens versus Twitch [where] the mod can choose to ban,” Redman said.