Twitch and YouTube have been the two monoliths of streaming since the medium’s explosive rise in the early 2010s.
Competitors like Facebook Gaming and Trovo have fallen by the wayside, or in the case of Mixer, vanished entirely. Other sites like Kick are currently up to challenge Amazon's Twitch and Alphabet's YouTube platforms, but without much success in emulating the same model. Instagram Live and TikTok Live have at least broken into the mobile market, but that’s a different audience.
In light of this history, VStream is trying to stand tall as the potential “future of virtual streaming.”
VStream is a new platform, targeted towards VTubers, that offers more than just a stream and a chatbox. It’s meant to be a social media platform where creators can more easily interact with fans on and off-stream, as well as letting VTubers monetize with an in-built commerce platform.
In essence, it’s less like Twitch or YouTube, and a mix of fan membership platforms like WeVerse with the content giants.
VStream has Silicon Valley backing. The site raised $3.6 million initially at a seed stage, and is looking at doing a proper Series A funding round in early 2024.
Co-founders Eric Koslow (formerly CTO at Lattice, a HR platform last valued at $3 billion) and E Jikan both have storied histories in the entrepreneurial and startup space, and wanted to channel that energy into the emerging VTubing field.
The idea for VStream was formulated in August 2020 off the back of a discussion between Koslow, E, and a mutual friend — all big VTuber fans. The idea of a video platform dedicated to VTubers was pitched, and the co-founders ran with it.
“VTubers are some of the fastest growing category of content creators out there,” E told NewsDrop. “They have super fans that are very happy to donate to them and buy their merch. It seemed like a fast-growing market you could tap into.
“Video is a really tough and expensive thing to do right. There have been massive platforms that have failed even with the backing of a megacorp. And that was all super exciting [for] us.
“Instead of just consuming content we figured it would be both fun and fulfilling to create a space to lift up those we already really like as well as create the space for new VTubers to more easily enter the space.”
Using their combined experience and networks, VStream wants to give creators all the resources they need to thrive in one centralized location. It’s a lofty ambition where many have failed before. So, what will make VStream different?
VStream is more than just streaming
E admitted VStream does not have the firepower of Amazon or Alphabet to truly try and crack into the dedicated streaming space. Even companies like Microsoft and Meta have tried and failed.
When devising the platform, they focused on the “compounding effects of multiple product lines” where “you could provide better and unique experiences by having these products in one place rather than using multiple different providers for those tools.”
For VStream, that means bringing content, community, and commerce onto the one site.
Even the biggest VTubers rely on Twitter for their social reach and third-party sites for their merchandising. As a fan, you have to be across multiple sites to get all the information, and even agency platforms too.
“You don't just watch VTubers,” E explained. “You know their stories and backgrounds. You know where they came from and where they're trying to get to. And your relationship [with] them doesn't end when the live stream is over. You follow them on Twitter, you talk with other fans on Discord, you see their photos on Instagram.
“Yet as a content creator, why do I have to make money and build my business in one place but then have to chase after my community in all of these other places? Why can't I build my audience in just one place where a single follow means that person is going to see my social content and my [video or other] content. Well, that's what we're aiming to do with VStream.”
While other streaming rivals have focused on advertiser revenue and eye-watering splits to draw creators in (Kick, backed by crypto casino Stake, turned heads with their 95% split in late 2022), E sees this as a “a negative incentive for the product.”
VStream instead takes a holistic approach to a content creator’s needs.
Merch sites will be available as part of a creator’s page, where they can sell any physical or digital goods. There will be a socials stream, not unlike YouTube’s Community feature or a Discord server, where you can participate and earn a “community score” based on engagement that means more than just a monthly sub number.
Streamers will not be blocked from simulcasting on Twitch or YouTube unless their existing contracts prohibit it. There will be tools to reach a global audience, including touted “live translations”.
All these services will tie into each other to benefit fans and creators, E states.
“You are a fan of X and so you watch their content on VStream. But you also really enjoy X's community so you participate in that as well. As you participate more and more and post content the rest of the community enjoys you build up a community score.
“Then that creator does a new merch drop and because you're such a good community member, you get a 20% discount on that merch.
“Finally, the creator hosts a special live stream where only those that have bought something in the last merch drop can participate and the streamer is going to do a ‘fit’ review from submitted photos from the fans.
“We think that's a way more compelling and engaging offering than what you can find on Twitch or YouTube today.”
Becoming VTubing’s one stop shop
In an ideal world, VStream wants to become the hub for all things virtual entertainment.
“It's our belief most people who are going to get into VTubing have yet to start,” E said. “I wouldn't look at current market sizes to judge the opportunity. I would plot out its growth from here. We want to be the platform that this next wave of creators starts on.”
VStream has started ramping up with two exclusive Waves of streamers, totalling around 50, who are already testing the site’s capabilities. VStream will eventually be open for any users to join and start streaming immediately, but a closed entry period is currently running for the foreseeable future.
One early user is TymoraTORA, who first participated as a beta tester before joining on as part of VStream’s first wave of official creators. In fact, they were the first non-staff member to stream on the platform.
TODAY IS THE DAY!!— VStream (EN) (@vstream_en) May 8, 2023
Our very first wave of VTubers will now be able to go live on VStream!🎉
You can find all of these wonderful VTubers and their streams HERE: https://t.co/eTe6v3fLGz
Please join us in giving them support! 💙 pic.twitter.com/dqUNE8OK5r
They found out about the platform through ambassador Valentina Chisei, and valued the openness of those behind the site.
“[Chisei] mentioned asking them questions and they answered all with honesty, even the hard ones and that’s something I’ve found true even today,” Tymora told NewsDrop. “The team is so invested in their own product, and they’re so willing and open with everyone about it.”
Tymora uses every social media platform possible to reach her audience. They're on Twitch and YouTube with constant activity, doing art commissions on VGen, and using the usual smattering of Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok to promote themselves more broadly.
While VStream is still building out all its features (the site is currently at Phase 2 of their six-stage Roadmap), they have been co-streaming on Twitch and VStream without any noticeable difference. However, its early stage hasn’t deterred them from trying to make the most of what’s available.
“It’s hard to really market and push a platform where the counterparts already exist with very few features currently available. But it hasn’t been all in one place. And I think the strength is mainly the team who works on it, believes [in] it, and the community they cultivate.
“The product concept is really solid, I love it. Just one site where you can handle all of your content creation needs, no need to run multiple platforms and worry about getting followers from Twitter to subscribe on YouTube or follow on Twitch too.”
Those features are something E and the team at VStream are working hard to bring to creators as soon as possible.
They stated they were “rushing to get our monetization features in place so that people could make a living from VStream, and working really closely with our creators to ensure we're building a platform they would be excited to [create on].”
Core features like automatic VOD generation, the ability to upload pre-recorded videos, and a "manually-curated homepage" which all exist on YouTube and Twitch are still on the way.
VStream is also slowly building relationships with talent agencies big and small to stream and host content on the budding site. The roadmap also highlights a number of accessibility features being worked on, various monetization strategies including a “marketplace for commissions”, and native mobile applications.
With the streaming landscape not really experiencing a major shift in a decade beyond the rise of a few fads, E and the team are aware of the monumental task ahead. But just because no one has done it before doesn’t mean VStream couldn’t be the one to break the duopoly — at least in VTubing.
“YouTube is 15+ years old, Twitch is 10+ years old,” E reiterated. “These are not new and innovative companies. These are old giants who had all their best and most passionate people leave years ago by now. There is room in the space for ‘innovation’ and disruption.
As for the creators? That innovation is what makes VStream worth a gamble.
“The only real competitor I’ve heard of for Twitch is kick but I’ve only heard bad things about the site,” Tymora added. “There’s also Picarto, [but] that’s so incredibly niche for artists. In the past there was Mixer, but that died due to it not listening to its creators and horrible marketing.
“VStream has been doing the opposite of all those things, so I think there is space for it. There’s no reason people should have all these link sites like Carrd just so fans know where to find their favorite content creator.
“The market is untapped and I think VStream is really smart for starting it.”