Caffeine Powers Social Streaming at X Games Aspen

The social-media–broadcasting platform enables fans to watch live streams together, create their own stream

Sports streaming got a little less solitary this weekend. X Games Aspen and social-media–broadcasting platform Caffeine have joined to create live video streams that fans can watch together. With Caffeine, viewers tune in to watch live streams with their friends, and broadcasters make live shows for fans. The platform casts a wide net, hosting such diverse events as Fortnite marathons, basketball-game broadcasts, and cosplay transformations.

This past weekend, Caffeine partnered with X Games Aspen to offer 10 hours of live coverage from the Games, featuring snowboarding, snowmobiling, and slopestyle, superpipe, and big air skiing.

Many of the events had celebrity hosts: for example, professional skiers Maggie Voisin and Caroline Claire for the men’s ski slopestyle elimination and pro skier Nick Goepper on the women’s ski superpipe final, snowmobile freestyle, and women’s ski big air.

Caffeine’s Ben Keighran: “At the X Games, we brought together a great group of athletes to talk about the sports that they love. Watching them chat with fans of the sport and experiencing them watching their friends compete was really magical.”

But there was no reason to stick with the pro commentators, because Caffeine fans could become hosts themselves. Fans were invited to create their own live streams, calling the action and interacting with their audience. That’s an interactive experience that traditional lean-back TV can never provide.

Viewers could take part in Caffeine’s interactivity by writing comments and sending questions to the broadcasters or other viewers. They could also vote on comments they liked and share 3D items in the chat field, items that could be clicked on to provide some kind of animated experience. Interactivity extended to the videos as well: viewers could zoom in and move the webcam around for a different view.

Caffeine’s access to live video from the X Games started when the company joined the Disney Accelerator program last year. CEO Ben Keighran credits the program with exposing his company to the teams and leaders within Disney and allowing Caffeine to collaborate with ESPN and stream X Games Aspen video. Disney offers its Accelerator program yearly, choosing eight companies deemed to have the potential to change the landscape for media and entertainment.

Caffeine’s content partners make money through the digital item-purchase system it introduced last May. This is where the 3D items mentioned above come from. One way that fans can interact with broadcasts is by sharing animated items.

“We release new items all the time in collections, and the community does fun things with them,” Keighran says. “Just the other day, there was a virtual snowball fight in a broadcast. Our users can purchase those with gold packs available through in-app purchases. When they’re used in a broadcast, we award the broadcaster credits that can be cashed out into real money. This type of model is growing in popularity and has had notable success in China with companies like Huya.”

The Caffeine platform enabled viewers to take part in the X Games experience by writing comments and sending questions to the broadcasters or other viewers.

The video that Caffeine viewers saw over the weekend came directly from ESPN, which recorded all the events. Keighran says viewers get incredibly low latency on his platform, typically under 190 ms. If that’s the case, viewers don’t need to worry about spoilers from social media. It also means that, when viewers start watching a broadcast, they can be greeted immediately, as though they just walked into the room. He doesn’t say how the platform achieves sub-second latency.

He also isn’t revealing the viewing numbers from the weekend. The metric he pays attention to is interactivity, and so his team joins events to see how hosts and viewers chat. In the near future, Caffeine will look to expand its viewer base, but, for now, it aims to make the experience as engaging as possible.

“At the X Games this week,” Keighran says, “we brought together a great group of athletes to talk about the sports that they love. Watching them chat with fans of the sport and experiencing them watching their friends compete was really magical. Later this year, we’ll put more focus on growing the audience.”

Besides providing the streams themselves, ESPN helped promote the Caffeine broadcasts. It spread the word through social-media channels and a press release, and guest hosts promoted the event to their social-media followers as well.

Fox is also a Caffeine investor, so the platform has hosted several Fox Sports events. Other sports are likely to join the platform soon. This week, for example, Caffeine is hosting the NFLPA’s Game Night in Atlanta, where NFL players take each other on in videogames as they await Super Bowl Sunday.