Microsoft Tries to Take On Twitch at Videogame Live-Streaming

By Sarah E. Needleman Features Dow Jones Newswires

Microsoft Corp. on Thursday is launching its own videogame live-streaming service called Mixer, setting up yet another battle among some of the biggest names in the technology industry.

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Despite its long history in videogames, Microsoft is late to live-streaming, in which people watch real-time videos of other people playing games and esports contests. It faces competition from the leaders, Amazon.com Inc.'s Twitch and Alphabet Inc.'s YouTube. And Facebook Inc., which has two billion monthly users, this year signed esports streaming deals.

A live-streaming service is a logical move for Microsoft, one of the few tech titans that owns a popular piece of dedicated gaming hardware. The company stopped reporting sales of its Xbox consoles in 2014; last month, it said its Xbox Live gaming service had 52 million users in the quarter ended March 31.

Still, "it would be tricky for anyone to try to capture market share," Jefferies analyst Tim O'Shea said.

Microsoft said it will prominently feature Mixer on Windows 10 and Xbox consoles, though it will continue to make the YouTube and Twitch apps available for download.

Mixer will be free for Windows 10 computers, Xbox consoles and mobile devices running iOS, Android or Windows. Microsoft plans to sell $5.99 monthly subscriptions to its streamers' channels -- a buck more than what Twitch charges -- as a way for viewers to support their favorites.

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Microsoft's move comes as interest in live-streaming is growing. People are expected to spend 11.4 billion hours this year watching live and on-demand game content on YouTube and Twitch, up from 9.6 billion in 2016, according to industry tracker SuperData Research. It estimates total revenue for the videogame live-streaming market to reach $1.5 billion this year.

Mixer is a revamped version of Beam, a service built by a little-known startup Microsoft acquired for an undisclosed amount last August.

"Microsoft didn't buy one of the industry's leaders, but they have an industry leading gaming platform and experience coming from behind," Brad Reback, an analyst at Stifel Nicolaus, said.

For example, while the company was late to cloud-computing, its Azure service has emerged as the No. 2 competitor to Amazon's pioneering cloud-infrastructure offering, Mr. Reback said.

To stand out, Microsoft said it plans to offer original features, such as the option for viewers to watch up to four broadcasts simultaneously. "We see an opportunity for technical innovation," said Mike Nichols, head of marketing for Microsoft's Xbox division.

The company said it is working to get partnerships with popular streamers. That could be difficult as some big streamers, such as members of esports teams Cloud 9 and Team Liquid, have exclusive contracts with other platforms.

--Jay Greene contributed to this article.

Write to Sarah E. Needleman at sarah.needleman@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 25, 2017 09:14 ET (13:14 GMT)