Founded in 2007, Justin.tv was a live streaming platform that eventually gave way to video game-focused live streaming giant Twitch.
Over its seven years in existence before shutting down in 2014, Justin.tv hosted countless live streams of everything from sports to video game gameplays.
Although the platform had its fair share of problems and controversies, that’s not why Justin.tv shut down — at least not directly.
In this article, we’re going to take a closer look at Justin.tv’s rise and fall to see what we can learn from the live streaming pioneer’s journey.
Justin.tv was a website that revolutionized the streaming of live videos on the internet by regular people. The platform was an instant success, largely due to the fact that many users streamed sports events in its early days.
However, streaming sports without a license is illegal as it’s a form of piracy, and this led to some legal troubles for the live streaming site, ultimately causing the company to pivot to video game streaming.
Initially, Justin.tv created a category for video game streaming on the site, which it called Twitch, eventually creating a separate site for Twitch in 2011.
By 2014 Twitch was so popular that Justin.tv renamed itself to Twitch Interactive and shut down the Justin.tv website, focusing solely on the Twitch brand and video game content.
We’ll go into more detail about all the different stages of Justin.tv’s life below.
Justin.tv was launched in 2007 by co-founders Justin Kan, Emmett Shear, Michael Siebel, and Kyle Vogt.
Prior to this, in 2005, Kan and Shear worked on an idea for a digital calendar app that integrated with Gmail and other email apps.
During this time, a friend of Kan introduced him to the founder of Y Combinator, Paul Graham, and Kan and Shear were accepted into YC’s accelerator program, which gave them $12,000 to work on their idea.
The co-founders released the calendar app, called Kiko, in August of 2005, and it experienced enough success to earn them another $50,000 in funding from investors.
Despite its potential, Kiko didn’t survive after Gmail launched its proprietary Google Calendar app, and Kan and Shear decided to try and sell Kiko on eBay. Surprisingly enough, they sold Kiko for a nice sum of $258,000!
Now, this was right around the time that YouTube had been launched and was taking off, and the concept inspired Kan and Shear to start working on their second startup idea: a live streaming service.
The two co-founders got together with Michael Siebel and Kyle Vogt, who Shear had met at Yale University, to work on the idea that became Justin.tv.
Justin.tv was originally created as a way for Kan to broadcast his life 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The term coined for this at the time was “lifecasting.”
Kan streamed literally everything, even very intimate moments like going on dates. From time to time he would pass the camera equipment off to someone else to take a break from streaming for a day or so, but he always remained the star of the show.
Other Justin.tv users could comment on Kan’s stream in a public chat room, and there were often thousands of people watching what was going on in his life at once.
Because it was so unique at the time, Justin.tv received instant media attention, which helped contribute to its early success.
But Kan stopped broadcasting his life later that same year and he and the other co-founders pivoted on their idea and decided to focus on making Justin.tv a site for anyone to broadcast anything.
They financed this development by raising $8 million from Alsop Louie Partners and Felicis Ventures and relaunched Justin.tv in October of 2007.
For the relaunch, Justin.tv’s co-founders were even able to get the Jonas Brothers to host a livestream, which attracted a whopping 80,000 watchers.
Justin.tv’s co-founders eventually added more than 60 different live streaming categories to the site, including gaming, sports, music, entertainment, animals, lifecasting, and more.
Sports streams quickly became one of the most popular categories on Justin.tv and were the biggest single source of traffic to the site, especially over weekends and during popular sports seasons, like NFL season and NCAA playoff season.
By July of 2008, the platform already had more than a million registered users, and by 2009 Justin.tv had attained a user base of an impressive 21 million people.
Justin.tv’s creators continued to refine the site and began looking for ways to generate revenue, as they were still just living off of the funding they raised.
They introduced sponsored channels in September of 2008, partnering with advertisers like the ecommerce shopping channel The Talk Market, which was backed by Amazon.
In order to log in and use Justin.tv, users just had to create an account using their email or a social media account, such as their Facebook.
Once someone created an account, they could watch live streams in any of the dozens of categories on the site, or start streaming themselves using a webcam or mobile phone, all for free. Audio streams without video were also possible, and users often broadcast music.
Users could chat with each other and comment on the content being streamed on the thousands of channels live at any given time.
In fact, there were already 30,000+ live stream broadcasting channels to choose from by April of 2008, according to co-founder Justin Kan.
Some of Justin.tv’s broadcasting channels were formed in partnerships with other media companies, such as Fox Corporation, and featured branded content from these companies.
All live streaming on Justin.tv was done using Adobe Flash. Justin.tv’s website used Flash to auto-detect webcams and stream from them, so users could broadcast directly through the site.
Additionally, Justin.tv supported third-party streaming software, including QuickTime Broadcaster, Camtwist, D3DGear Broadcaster, Flash Media Encoder, Wirecast, Open Broadcaster Software, FFSplit Broadcaster, XSplit Broadcaster and VLC.
Streamers could use such software to add special effects to or improve the quality of their streams.
Using software to improve the quality of videos allowed users to bypass Justin.tv’s limitations, which were set at maximums of 1,000 kbps for video streams and 44 kHz for audio streams.
Users could also choose to enable or disable the ability to embed their channels in other sites.
In terms of languages, the US-based Justin.tv site was strictly in English, but translation into other languages was supported. The platform reached full translation into Spanish and Catalan, and 50% or more translation into 17 other languages.
Justin.tv experienced a variety of problems and controversies before it eventually shut down. These included dangerous pranks, pirated live stream content, and even a tragic death broadcast live.
None of these were directly responsible for what happened to Justin.tv, but they did play a role in Justin-tv’s evolutions and eventual reformation into Twitch.
Justin.tv’s problems started early, when it was still just an outlet for founder Justin Kan to stream his own life 24/7.
Justin was occasionally the target of dangerous pranks, including swat-style pranks in which the perpetrators called 911 and falsely reported crimes or emergencies, such as a stabbing and a fire, in Justin’s apartment.
Of course, emergency services including the police and the fire department had to respond to these calls, and Justin’s number eventually got flagged by 911 operators, resulting in him having to change it.
These pranks were partly responsible for Justin pivoting on his startup idea and relaunching Justin.tv as a full live streaming platform with his friends and co-founders, Emmett Shear, Michael Siebel, and Kyle Vogt.
So, even though these pranks didn’t directly lead to Justin.tv shutting down, they are an important part of its story because they influenced the form in which it operated.
Justin.tv’s saddest problem occurred early in its life, on November 19, 2008. On this day, a 19-year-old man named Abraham K. Biggs, who was suffering from bi-polar disorder, broadcast his own drug-induced suicide to viewers via his Justin.tv streaming channel.
Michael Seibel, Justin.tv’s CEO, made the following statement on the matter:
“We regret that this has occurred and respect the privacy of the broadcaster and his family during this time. We have policies in place to discourage the distribution of distressing content and our community monitors the site accordingly. This content was flagged by our community, reviewed and removed according to our terms of service.”
Justin.tv was not held liable in any way for the young man’s death, so we can’t say that this sad and unfortunate incident had any notable impact on what happened to Justin.tv, but Biggs’ father did blame Justin.tv’s viewers and the platform in part for his son’s suicide.
As we mentioned earlier, pirated sports streams were a big reason for Justin.tv’s early success, as they attracted millions of viewers to the platform to watch everything from football to UFC.
However, this quickly drew negative attention from authorized broadcasters in the United States, the United Kingdom, and even Australia.
Several lawsuits were filed against Justin.tv, and the company was forced to try and do more to stop illegal broadcasts or potentially face the same fate as other pirate sites that were getting shut down left and right at the time.
One way Justin.tv did this was by partnering with Vobile and Fox to automatically scan streams for copyrighted content. Part of the deal struck was that Fox would not sue Justin.tv as long as it was making efforts to remove streams that were infringing on Fox’s copyrights.
In 2009, Justin.tv’s CEO Michael Siebel had to go and testify in front of a House Judiciary Committee hearing on sports piracy.
The pressure on the streaming platform was mounting, and Justin.tv had to hire a team of lawyers to combat their various legal problems.
As Justin.tv began taking down more and more illegal live streams, its traffic also began to nosedive.
In 2010, after all of this had been going on for a while, Justin.tv’s traffic dropped by as much as 20%, or about five million users.
Despite Justin.tv’s best efforts to fight piracy and appease the various organizations suing them, the legal troubles continued into 2011, when the UFC filed a lawsuit against the company.
These legal issues were perhaps the most indirectly responsible for Justin.tv’s shut down — 2011 was also when the company pivoted again by spinning its Twitch video game streaming category off into its own standalone streaming site.
There were many reasons why the creators of Justin.tv decided to launch Twitch as a separate platform, but one of the biggest reasons was that there were no copyright issues associated with video game streaming content.
Video game gameplay also happened to be one of Justin.tv’s most popular categories, after sports streams.
Additionally, video game studios were happy to work with Justin.tv on eSport event content. This was quite the polar opposite of what Justin.tv had been experiencing with other types of sports content.
In 2011, shortly after Justin.tv launched Twitch as a separate streaming site, the company’s original founder Justin Kan, whom the site was named after, decided to part ways with his creation and work on other startup ideas.
Due to Twitch’s massive popularity — it had already reached more than one billion minutes of viewed video game gameplay content in the first few months — the remaining co-founders decided to focus most of their energy on growing the Twitch brand.
After three years of operating as an offshoot of Justin.tv, Twitch took over as the primary brand, and the company Justin.tv was renamed to Twitch Interactive in February of 2014.
A few months later, the Twitch team announced that they would delete all of Justin.tv’s archived content, which marked the true beginning of the end for Justin.tv.
Around this time, rumors began circulating that Google and YouTube were both interested in acquiring Twitch.
Finally, on August 5, 2014, Justin.tv’s co-founders announced that they were shutting down their original platform for good.
They made the following statement about their decision to shut Justin.tv down:
“Justin.tv pioneered live video on the Internet and spawned one of the largest video platforms ever: Twitch. Justin.tv was officially renamed Twitch Interactive Inc. in February of 2014 and Twitch is now the focus of the company’s resources. Unfortunately that means we need to shut down Justin.tv. We thank all of our broadcasters and viewers for 7 years of live video memories.”
Less than a month later, Amazon announced that it had acquired Twitch for the massive sum of $970 million.
So, ultimately, the reason Justin.tv shut down was that it spawned Twitch, a much more popular streaming platform, and that Amazon acquired the new streaming service.
Although we don’t know all the details of the acquisition deal, it’s likely that Amazon didn’t want to buy Twitch with Justin.tv, as Justin.tv represented an unnecessary expense.
There were also still issues related to pirated live streams on Justin.tv, which Amazon almost certainly wanted nothing to do with.
Since there were no copyright issues with Twitch and it was the more popular of the two streaming sites, this was what Amazon was really after, and Justin.tv’s co-founders probably decided to shut down the original site to seal the deal with Amazon and smooth the handover.
Justin.tv wasn’t the world’s first live streaming platform, but it was responsible for taking live streaming to a whole new level and helping to popularize video game gameplay streaming.
Even though the site is no longer around today, can we really say Justin.tv failed? Well, not really.
If you consider the fact that Justin.tv gave birth to Twitch, the streaming platform with more than 30 million active users and millions of people watching streams at any given time, its journey was a successful one.
Justin.tv’s rise and fall is a prime example of how a startup idea can change over time to meet market pull and adapt to problems, eventually becoming a more polished, desirable product.
In the case of Justin.tv, its metamorphosis into Twitch led to an incredibly lucrative buyout by Amazon.
Even though none of the countless hours of content streamed via Justin.tv during its seven years in action exist anymore and the site’s URL is defunct, its spirit lives on through Twitch, and the much-loved streaming platform is definitely not going anywhere anytime soon.