Jun 27, 2020 04:11 AM

Tencent’s Streaming Rival to Amazon’s Twitch Is Hiding in Plain Sight

Photo: Bloomberg
Photo: Bloomberg

(Bloomberg) ― Tencent Holdings Ltd. is rolling out a livestreaming service similar to Inc.’s Twitch in the U.S., 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 U.S. since at least March. Initially called Madcat and now branded Trovo Live, the new service closely resembles Twitch in 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 $30 million partnership program starting in July.

Tencent dominates gaming and social media in China and may be one of the few companies with the resources to challenge Amazon. 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.

The Chinese tech giant may roll out Trovo amid upheaval on the U.S. game-streaming scene. Microsoft this week announced it’s closing down its Mixer platform, which 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.

Moreover, Chinese ownership of social media in the U.S. is under increased scrutiny. Rival ByteDance Ltd. has been the subject of concerns raised by U.S. 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 U.S. downloads ― has also been vague about its Chinese connection.

Still in beta testing, Trovo has gone largely unnoticed outside the gaming community. Its best-attended livestreams 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.

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 Tencent’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 $263 million to buy control of China’s Twitch equivalent Huya Inc. in April and this week acquiring content and technology from struggling Southeast Asian outfit iFlix Ltd.

Trovo’s privacy policy notes that its servers are based in Hong Kong, Singapore and the U.S. However, its support and engineering teams, which will have access to user information, are located in “offices around the world” including 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 favored streamers. Another Twitch similarity is the tiered partnership program designed to encourage gamers to join and evangelize the service.

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