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Tokyo Gets Its Own Twitch Channel (EXCLUSIVE)

Twitch is getting more diverse by the day. From the abundance of in-real-life streamers mounting their Go-Pros throughout their globetrotting adventures to twentysomething beardos live-streaming marathon D&D sessions to poker pros navigating tough flops from the comfort of their bedroom, the idea that Amazon’s live-streaming service is limited to people playing video games is quickly becoming an outdated notion. Sure, that remains Twitch’s primary function — when you go to the website you will first be greeted with images of “Fortnite” and “League of Legends” before you see anything else — but it’s not shocking that investors and creatives are recognizing the truly measureless potential of the platform.

Case in point: on May 15, Frankie Colamarino, co-founder of the ad agency Problem, will launch Twitch.tv/Tokyo, quite literally a Twitch channel dedicated to all of Tokyo and its many subdivisions. Problem is working with Twitch on the launch, but doesn’t have a partnership with the Japanese government, nor is Colamarino carrying any pre-ordained nationalized obligations into the project. Instead, he tells Variety that this is a completely independent endeavor that’s been in the works for over a year. In practice, the channel will be something like a linear, freewheeling talk show: six-hour-long broadcasts featuring artists, scenesters, chefs, gamers, ex-pats, and natives — the real colors of Tokyo, fitting for a channel that intends to speak for the soul of a metropolis.

“We’re keeping specific names under wraps at the moment, but it will be a mixed bag of personalities and perspectives,” said Colamarino. “Our Discord is going to also play a huge role when we bring on certain personalities. Expect things like live on-stream AMAs, local events, etc., where the audiences can drive the content direction in real time.”

The closest analog might be what Snapchat does with its city streams, where any user can tune into an ongoing showcase of the local color of a particular borough somewhere in the world. Of course, Snapchat delivers that content in 20-second dollops, with no need for any hosts, segments, or heavy-duty broadcasting equipment. Twitch is a different animal, and that’s not lost on Colamarino: “We’re really predicated on thinking about what we want to capture and what sorts of things will work in a long-form context. We want to evoke the feeling of being in Tokyo with someone who knows it well and is sharing their very personal experience, perspective, and narrative with you.”

What’s interesting is that Problem also doesn’t want to pull any punches, and you shouldn’t expect the Tokyo Twitch Channel to be an automated “Lost in Translation” simulator. Yes, Colamarino tells Variety that the broadcasts will include plenty of the vibrancy that makes Tokyo a legendary city, but it also won’t shy away from the Japanese-specific cultural issues that linger under the surface, and out of sight of the ordinary westerner. “Our main focus is to have unexpected, and at times, uncomfortable, conversations,” he explained.

“Many of the issues, which are not apparent to the foreign eye, stem from the insularity of Japan as a nation. Most forget it is, in fact, an island, and to that end, governs itself in a very systematic and unchecked manner,” Colamarino said. “There’s a romantic notion by foreigners about living in Japan, but we think it’s important to balance that enthusiasm with a bit of reality from those who have experienced and lived through the process. Depression, chauvinism, hikikomori [a Japanese term for extreme social withdrawal], and other ‘unspoken’ issues that most have no clear idea about or simply no one to ask for an honest perspective, will be explored.”

It’s easy to see the appeal here. The Twitch algorithm rewards interesting content in all shapes and sizes, and there’s a clear roadmap to convincing the world at large to watch a persistent, unfettered periscope into a world-class city. Colamarino is already telling Variety that, if audiences respond, he could see them upping the broadcast schedule to 24 hours. (“We’re counting on it,” he said.)

It used to be an open question: whether Twitch would ever fully cross over, and emerge as a multimedia hub for general interests across the spectrum. Today, that question feels more like an inevitability than speculation. It’s just a matter of getting the formula right.

“Twitch is a powerful format and technology that’s backed by one of most influential companies in the world,” Colamarino said. “The potential to cross-pollinate between storytelling, commerce, and content distribution is tremendous, and will help deliver the platform from its ‘gamer-only’ identity.”

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