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.

Early years

Kan, Shear, and Siebel met at Yale University and instantly became friends, but it was Kan who always wanted to start his own business. At some point, a mutual friend introduced Kan to Y Combinator founder Paul Graham who was on the lookout for tech start-ups to fund in Yale’s computer science department.

Graham initially invested in a calendar app Kan developed called Kiko, but after two updates, it was made redundant after Google released its own version.

Kan managed to sell the app on eBay for $258,000, which impressed Graham to the point where he wondered if he and Shear had any other ideas in the pipeline.

As it turned out, the pair did have an idea. Around the same time that Kiko was sold in August 2006, YouTube was released to the public. Kan and Shear were inspired by YouTube and wanted to build a platform where anyone could create their own live cast.

Justin.tv is founded

Kan and Shear then recruited Siebel and Vogt with the team moving into a small San Francisco apartment. Developing the concept proved difficult in the 2000s.

For one, it was very expensive to host and upload videos. What’s more, the phones of the era did not possess cameras and could not connect to the internet in any case.

Funded by a Y Combinator investment, Vogt engineered a solution involving an analog camera connected to a PC that was itself connected to the internet.

He also used Amazon EC2 to make reduce the cost of streaming content. Justin.tv was launched on March 19, 2007, with thousands of users attracted to the platform out of curiosity for Kan’s 24/7 stream.

Illegal content

After a while, Kan found it difficult to continuously create new material and the number of users on the platform at any given time started to drop.

The founders thus decided to pivot toward a platform where users could live stream whatever they wanted.

To finance this pivot, Justin.tv raised $8.38 million from the likes of Alsop Louie Partners and Bessemer Venture Partners.

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.

To help it navigate the various legal issues it faced, the team hired Eric Goldman, director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clare University in an advisory capacity.

One of his first jobs was to deal with a subpoena issued by the UFC after the continued illegal broadcast of content by Justin.tv streamers.

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.

The platform’s recent release as an app also resulted in an additional two million users.

But how to monetize the platform itself?

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.


The video game category from Justin.tv was then spun out to a new site called Twitch in June 2011.

Twitch was so popular three years later 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

Former Justin.tv COO Justin Lin also stressed that community input has been vital in the development of the new platform’s functionality and features. In essence, the development’s focus was on tools that could enable games to become professionals in their sport. 

At the time, the deal was the largest in Amazon’s two-decade history and enabled it to benefit from the rapid growth in the gaming industry alongside Apple and Google.

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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