There are a lot of ways for you to watch results trickle in on election night. While you can turn on CNN and watch Wolf Blitzer announce “key race alerts” that are too early to call or develop an ancient hatred for Fivey Fox, more and more young people are choosing to get their election night news from Twitch personalities.
The most successful stream of the night was undoubtedly Hasan Piker’s. Piker, who goes by “hasanabi” on Twitch, is a left-wing political commentator and former journalist who regularly streams political commentary on Twitch and has amassed a large following online. Though Piker’s streams regularly have a significant turnout, his 16-hour election night stream managed to draw in an impressive 163,546 average viewers, with a peak concurrent viewership of nearly 227,000, according to Twitch Tracker.
|Channel||Date||Average Viewer Count|
|Stream: 2020 US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION - BEDLAM IS UPON US!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!||20201104||157,906|
|Stream: 2020 US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION - BEDLAM IS UPON US!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !lineup||20201104||163,546|
|Stream: PSEPHOLOGY W/ MIKE_FROM_PA and CHAZ NUTTYCOMBE (that's his real name KEKW)||20201103||34,442|
|Stream: 24 HOURS UNTIL BEDLAM||20201103||40,469|
|Stream: TRUMP'S FINAL RALLY (?)||20201103||33,232|
Piker and others’ election night streams are just the next step in the evolution of Twitch supplanting traditional media for young viewers, who have been flocking to the platform during COVID-19. But the success of these streams speaks to a gap in the way the news is typically presented and the way audiences want to consume it.
Piker’s stream doesn’t have the granular statistical analysis of CNN’s interactive election map or FiveThirtyEight’s live blog, but what it does have is authenticity. When viewers watch Piker sift through a deluge of election data, they see someone in-the-know who consumes and reacts to the news the same way they do. He’s an outspoken personality who reflects a lot of the same anger and frustrations as his viewers — the kind of guy whose political tweets open with “this shit is so braindead.” As I write this, Piker is currently streaming live to 107,000 viewers.
But the trust viewers have for streamers like Piker over your traditional cable news anchor comes from something much more simple than sharing political opinions and preferring a certain media platform; it has to do with authenticity. While cable news outlets put the focus on stodgy or sports-like presentation, offering little character other than in structured discussion panels, Hasan’s unfiltered streams are a comfort.
“Last night I watched Piker and his guests play for time as he clicked on the wrong tab in his disorganized browser at least three times,” Motherboard staff writer Gita Jackson wrote about the stream. “I saw myself, and the way that I engage with politics and the news, in not just Piker's political opinions but the way he uses the internet itself.”
Not every stream looked the same, though. While Piker sat at his desk and streamed his face and desktop browser, other left-wing internet personalities offered somewhat more structured streams. Popular progressive podcast ChapoTrapHouse held their own election night special, which raked in 27,617 average viewers and still had a casual vibe, but featured all four hosts dressed up and in organized seating.
|Channel||Date||Average Viewer Count|
|Stream: Chapo Election Night Special 2020||20201104||27,617|
|Stream: Chapo Election Night Special 2020 Aftershow||20201104||3,102|
|Stream: ChapoFYM Election Preshow - Podcast Coverage starts at 7pm EST/4pm PST||20201104||1,031|
|Stream: Are You Ready for Some VOTEBALL?!||20201103||1,651|
Of all the broadcasts on Twitch on election night, the one that perhaps most resembles a traditional news broadcast was The Majority Report, a political commentary show run by left-wing commentator and comedian Sam Seder which features a studio and multi camera presentation. Seder’s broadcast was also popular despite its more old-school design, with a total of 1,710 average viewers on election night.
But the reason Piker’s stream was more successful than others who share his political stances is because Twitch is his native platform. Chapo exists primarily as a podcast, and The Majority Report is as much a radio show as it is a video broadcast. Piker has turned his stream into something independently and unmistakably itself.
But while Piker and his circle of left-wing internet personalities certainly had the most popular streams of the night, they aren’t the only ones moving in on live streaming as a platform to spread their political beliefs.
On Youtube, right-wing commentator Dave Rubin held an election night stream which stacked up 375,011 views at the time of writing. Rubin’s show, the Rubin Report, features Rubin himself sitting down with a guest (previous guests include Laura Southern and Donald Trump Jr.) to talk about the news from a conservative angle. On Twitch, esports personality and former Breitbart writer Richard Lewis hosted his own stream which attracted 4,800 average viewers — far, far less than Piker’s, but still a significant audience.
Both of these personalities have their own dedicated viewers much like Piker and ChapoTrapHouse have theirs. If Piker and Chapo’s hosts appeal to angry left-wing viewers, Lewis and Rubin do the same for the right-wing, and much more dangerously. Rubin has had personalities like Milo Yiannopoulos on his show and tweeted earlier today that “we [should] all admit the pandemic is over.” Lewis physically assaulted and allegedly strangled a player at an esports event, and has his own terrible history of sexist and racist comments.
So an age divide is likely being driven down the different types of election coverage, with young, impassioned viewers turning to personalities they agree with and trust while older audiences tune into more traditional media. In the past, conservative media and pundits led the wave of online political personalities with the Ben Shapiros and Tomi Lahrens of the world. But even those are rooted in the presentation of old media, whereas Piker has put forth a model that works for the other side of the aisle and attracts audiences in large numbers.
About the Data:
Thinknum tracks companies using the information they post online, jobs, social and web traffic, product sales, and app ratings, and creates data sets that measure factors like hiring, revenue, and foot traffic. Data sets may not be fully comprehensive (they only account for what is available on the web), but they can be used to gauge performance factors like staffing and sales.