What Exactly is IRL Streaming?

Live streaming, the activity of broadcasting an event in real time over the internet for the purpose of entertainment, is not a new concept by any means. In fact, you have to go all the way back to 1993 to find the internet’s first live video stream of a garage band called Severe Tire Damage.

So how did this band no one has ever heard of have the foresight to live stream a performance? Well, they were literally a band of computer programmers. They just happened to have the technology available to them, and they knew how to use it.

Fast forward several years and live streaming is now one of the world’s fastest growing, most popular formats of obtaining information and entertainment, with no shortage of platforms providing content to the millions of viewers who tune in.

The most used applications like YouTube Live, Facebook Watch, and Periscope have made it easy and inexpensive for content providers — aka streamers — to showcase their skills and entertain. Perhaps the most popular streaming platform in the world, if not by sheer numbers then at least by notoriety, is Twitch, founded by Justin Kan (he of Justin.tv fame).

In recent years Twitch has become synonymous with the massive-growth video game streaming and esports industries. However, Twitch is not just gamers. Yes, a very large percentage of streamers on the platform spend their time and earn their money playing video games, but a new breed of streamer is making waves once again.

The IRL Streamer!

Wait, what is IRL? you ask. It stands for In Real Life, and in the context of Twitch it consists of nearly everyone who doesn’t play video games. Somewhat of a cottage industry on its own, an IRL stream is typically less flashy and chaotic than the gaming streams that are the most popular on the platform. But isn’t that kind of the point?

IRL streamers mostly stay away from video games and their activities range from reading books to their audience (Andy Kaufman, anyone?), interviewing people on the street, and knitting. Yes, you can watch 58 year old Jennifer Chambers knit on her channel JennyKnits.

If knitting doesn’t get you excited then surely cooking does! There are countless streams of people, well, cooking. From making homemade pizza to baking cupcakes to creating five course meals, you can find almost anything you’re looking for.

It’s not just activities that take place on live streams (insomuch as reading is an activity). Many popular IRL streamers simply hold question and answer periods with their viewers where questions are posed live, using an app within the video feed, and the personality answers. They key to all of this clicking is that streamers must provide some sort of value to their viewers, and this is something the most successful streamers all understand.

One of the first things people talk about when the topic of streaming comes up is monetization. The biggest and most popular video game streamers earn hundreds of thousands of dollars every month, and some make even more. Money comes from brand endorsements from huge companies like Pepsi or Nike, native ads (many Twitch streamers will post their best videos on YouTube, creating an all-new income stream), and donations from viewers.

Donations are the most interesting and often the most important source of income for streamers, and can mean the difference between doing this as a hobby or doing it full-time. Simply put, when viewers find value in a stream — being entertained counts as value here — they will “tip” the streamer, often with a country’s native currency, but the advent of cryptocurrencies certainly adds a new twist. Good streamers know how to make themselves stand out with personality and skill, but having a unique offering is just as important, and is actually one of the most basic tenets of marketing.

Whether they know it by this term or not, successful streamers have a unique selling proposition: themselves. And as long as viewers continue to find value in a streamer, and as long as the tips keep coming, and endorsements pile up, IRL streaming will continue to grow in popularity, perhaps one day catching up to its more famous cousin, the video game streamer.