What happened to Justin.tv?

Justin.tv was a website that enabled anyone to broadcast online video on a personalized user account, otherwise known as a channel. It was created in 2007 by Justin Kan, Emmett Shear, Michael Siebel, and Kyle Vogt, initially as a way for Kan to broadcast his life 24/7.

Thanks in part to users who broadcasted live sport on the platform, Justin.tv more than tripled its user base to reach 21 million by October 2009. Less than two years later, however, Justin.tv became part of a new site called Twitch and the brand was officially shut down in August 2014.

Illegal content

Much of the platform’s early success can be attributed to users who broadcasted sports matches without a license to do so. Traffic spiked appreciably on the weekends, particularly during football season and events such as the NCAA basketball tournament.

Inevitably, this attracted the attention of official broadcasters, with Siebel called to testify at a hearing into sports piracy in late 2009. He noted that while Justin.tv took steps to remove pirated content when a complaint was made, it was unrealistic to expect site administrators to monitor every single account. Such was the influence of Justin.tv that it also attracted the ire of sports broadcasters in the United Kingdom and Australia

After the UFC and a boxing promoter filed lawsuits, the company made a more concerted effort to remove illegal broadcasts. Traffic then plummeted by as much as 20% in 2010, representing a drop of approximately 5 million users. One user noted that ”Justin.tv is basically unusable at this point.” To compound the problem, Justin.tv’s association with pirated material made it difficult to attract serious investment capital.

Pivot to gaming

Around 2011, the Justin.tv co-founders had a stagnant business with no real purpose. However, the lawless nature of the platform and the freedom it afforded users had resulted in the formation of a passionate video game streaming niche.

At the time, Kan disliked the niche because it required a lot of bandwidth and he didn’t understand why users would want to spend their time watching others play video games. But irrespective of Kan’s grievances, traffic data suggested this was exactly what Justin.tv users were doing. Emmett Shear, himself a gamer, noted that with some added features and embedded advertising, the niche had the potential to become profitable.

Twitch

The video game category from Justin.tv was then spun out to a new site called Twitch in June 2011. Three years later, Twitch was so popular that the entire company became known as Twitch Interactive and the Justin.tv brand was formally retired soon after.

Amazon purchased Twitch in August 2014 for $970 million in cash

Key takeaways:

  • Justin.tv was a website that enabled anyone to broadcast online video from a personalized user account. It was created by Justin Kan, Emmett Shear, Michael Siebel, and Kyle Vogt in 2007 as a way for users to broadcast their daily lives.
  • Justin.tv was an instant success thanks mostly due to users who illegally streamed sports matches. When the company was sued for broadcasting pirated material, traffic dropped and growth stagnated.
  • Justin.tv then pivoted to video game streaming after the co-founders noticed it was starting to become popular with users. The niche was then spun out into a website called Twitch that eventually became the company’s sole focus. The Justin.tv brand was formally retired in August 2014.

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