Tencent’s Twitch streaming rival is hiding in plain sight


Tencent dominates gaming and social media in its domestic market and may be one of the few companies with the resources to challenge Twitch. –— Reuters

Tencent Holdings Ltd is rolling out a live-streaming service similar to Amazon.com Inc’s Twitch in the United States, making a rare foray into American social media.

China’s largest company has been quietly testing a mobile-focused streaming network via an affiliate in the United States since at least March. Initially called Madcat and now branded Trovo Live, the new service closely resembles Twitch in its appearance and functionality. Beyond Tencent’s own portfolio of popular games like Fortnite and PUBG Mobile, Trovo also spotlights marquee titles like Grand Theft Auto and Destiny 2. This week, it detailed plans on its website to entice and reward creators with a US$30mil (RM128.75mil) partnership programme starting in July.

Tencent dominates gaming and social media in its domestic market and may be one of the few companies with the resources to challenge Twitch. But the WeChat operator has met with mixed results in its efforts to build online users abroad and Trovo for now is only an embryonic service.

Still in beta testing, Trovo has gone largely unnoticed outside the gaming community. Its best-attended live streams have only a few dozen viewers at a time, though its Discord chat channel numbers more than 5,000 members. It has attracted some experienced creators from Twitch, YouTube and Microsoft Corp’s soon-to-be-defunct Mixer platform

"Tencent being a backer for Mobile creators is definitely a big upside as they run most of the biggest competitive mobile games in the world,” said Bobby Plays, a gaming content creator with close to 450,000 subscribers on YouTube who recently joined the nascent service. He’s "had nothing but good experiences so far” with Trovo, though the platform operators haven’t directly communicated their Tencent affiliation to him, he added.

Trovo says in the terms of service on its website that it’s an affiliate of Tencent’s, without elaborating. The document lists a contact address that matches that of the Chinese giant’s American headquarters in Palo Alto, California. Tencent declined to comment.

Tencent has been actively expanding its online streaming assets in recent months, having spent US$263mil (RM1.13bil) April to buy control of China’s Twitch equivalent Huya Inc. and this week acquiring content and technology from struggling South-East Asian outfit iFlix Ltd.

Development and testing of Trovo has proceeded under the radar at a time of increased scrutiny over Chinese ownership of social media in the United States. Rival ByteDance Ltd has been the subject of concerns raised by US Senator Marco Rubio about platforms such as its TikTok video-sharing service being "used as a tool by the Chinese Communist Party to extend its authoritarian censorship.” Zynn – a video-sharing app from Tencent-backed Kuaishou that recently spiked in US downloads – has also been vague about its Chinese connection.

Trovo’s privacy policy notes that its servers are based in Hong Kong, Singapore and the United States, however its support and engineering teams, which will have access to user information, are located in "offices around the world” that include mainland China.

Like Twitch, Trovo sports a carousel showcase of live channels, sidebars for chat with other viewers and channel recommendations highlighting the most popular active creators. It also has paid subscriptions and rewards that let viewers support their favoured streamers. Another Twitch similarity is the tiered partnership programme designed to encourage gamers to join and evangelize the service.

The imminent arrival of Trovo comes at a moment of upheaval on the US game-streaming scene. Microsoft this week announced it’s closing down its Mixer platform, which had poached high-profile streamer Ninja away from Twitch last summer in an expensive but ultimately unfruitful move. Twitch itself has been rocked by a series of allegations about turning a blind eye to sexual harassment and abuse by some of its popular users. The Amazon-owned service has said it will investigate and suspend offending accounts. – Bloomberg

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