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It's streaming, but with cooking
Meet Kittch: the $5MM venture backed by private investment and chefs
Over the last month, I’ve watched at least a dozen streams on Kittch, a new streaming platform currently in beta. The KarpReilly-backed venture ($5MM in total from them, Marcus Samuelsson, Chris Bianco, and Chris Shepherd) announced itself in November 2021, and only recently entered beta.
Part of what makes nascent companies particularly interesting is the various directions that it can take, with the roadmap staying flexible and nimble, all the while staying true to the “big idea”.
For Kittch, this big idea plugs into the lack of niche representation and discoverability on the two big current streaming platforms: YouTube and Twitch. With the former, you’re competing against the multitude of uploaded static content, for which it is primarily known for. And with the latter, the IRL categories leave cooking relegated to the catch-all bucket of “Just Chatting”. Suffice to say, exposure is a challenge within the current parameters of streaming.
But does that mean food content creators and chefs need their own platform?
Revenue: the wheel isn’t being reinvented
In November 2021, Kittch CEO Brian Bedol told HNGRY (paywalled) that the platform’s goal is to one day allow chefs to sell “everything from cookbooks to dinner reservations once it can amass a large enough audience.” And there’s a reason why Bedol is quick to point to other ways for talent to monetize on the platform: streaming pays very little.
If you recall Twitch’s massive data leak in October, journalists who combed the data were quick to point out that less than 0.1% (only the top 3000 Twitch streamers) earn more than the average American household’s $67 000 a year. For the most part, streaming is not lucrative; in fact, you’ll find that the majority do not even make minimum wage.
And speaking of infrastructure, the pathways to revenue, benefiting both platform and creators, borrow from already working models. Future Party and Fast Company list a few ways that the platform has posited as ways to generate dollars:
Tips via in-platform currency: similar to Twitch’s bits and YouTube’s Super Thanks
VIP private viewings via “The Chef’s Table”: a riff on a function commonly seen on cam sites
Brand partnership: a go-to for brands in the last decade to gain visibility beyond traditional banner ad placements
Revenue splits on promoted items in an online marketplace: similar to affiliate links from our favourite influencers, as well as the promoted item carousel available on monetized YouTube channels
While the above can certainly bring the collective dollars necessary to sustain and grow Kittch, I doubt that most creators on the platform will be self-sufficient from Kittch and its proposed add-ons. Made In’s Jake Kalick (whose cookware brand is also backed by KarpReilly) is most apt when he says that Kittch brings the possibility of brand awareness to the table—and that is its major selling point to creators. Granted, only time will tell on how big the pool of exposure actually is.
Growing pains of a start-up
During my observation time, I’ve seen several areas that should be addressed in the near future so as to avoid significant roadblocks. For now, I’ll address the use of copyrighted music, accessibility challenges, and the need for education.
When Twitch was in its early stages, its streamers flew under the radar when using copyrighted music on streams and clips (i.e. recorded parts of the stream made available for on-demand viewing). However, by mid-2020, the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) reared its head, resulting in thousands of takedown notices of copyrighted material. Many streamers saw their archives disappear overnight due to having run afoul by using music that they did not have rights to.
This past fall, Twitch struck a deal with the National Music Publishers’ Association to allow for some leniency in delivering strikes, suspensions, and bans against users. While users are still not allowed to play licensed music on their streams, Twitch has some wiggle room in determining who to punish. For example, if a user accidentally comes across a website that plays copyrighted music, they would automatically been sanctioned under the older rules; however, with this, Twitch is allowed some discretion and can look the other way.
As it pertains to Kittch, not a lot of music plays on the streams that I’ve seen. I did watch one, though, that opted to play holiday music from a laptop, which made me wonder: are holiday songs still copyrighted? Disc Makers offered the nuance I was looking for: while certain songs may be in public domain, arrangements can still be construed as copyright infringements.
At the time of writing, Gene Autry’s “Here Comes Santa Claus” is still audible at around the 21-minute mark of Kittch project consultant Amanda Shulman’s “Xmas eve prep” stream.
As the team at Kittch begins to look at scaling, which is evident by the slowly growing roster of creators, the question of how to navigate legal waters is a big one. Twitch was able to skirt DMCA oversight because of how new it was, a benefit of being first to market. However, Kittch is entering the space at a time when oversight and compliance are becoming commonplace,. And these missteps will surely have far larger consequences than they did five years ago.
Making live video accessible to all is a challenge. But similar to the issue outlined above, it is not one that can be so easily glossed over by saying that this space we’re in is uncharted territory. It’s a topic that has seen its fair share of discussion in Twitch’s UserVoice, Input, Android Central, Wired, and more.
To be honest, I’m not too familiar with the topic, but quickly going through the main platforms’ support hubs, I am able to find documentation on platform policy (Twitch) and ways in which streamers can make their own content accessible (Twitch, YouTube).
It’s not to say that Kittch needs to have their product road map rejiggered immediately, but there needs to be a plan of sorts in place (or at least some explicit disclosure). Otherwise, they leave themselves vulnerable to legal complaints, such as this one.
Cultivating and nurturing talent
I get it. To build something that people will hopefully adopt, you’ve got to try and have some bankable names. But sometimes, these names are not the ones that can or ought to be carrying the brand. Beyond the tech adoption component, streaming goes past the simple ins and outs of steps in a cooking demo. There is a lot more of an interactive and intimate quality to this form of engagement than first meets the eye.
Every streamer has their own style and personality, but everyone can benefit from coaching from someone that has had experience in the space. Audio is as important as the picture, but in some of the streams I’ve watched, the audio seems to be an afterthought (i.e. lots of echo, background noise, or low quality) with the troubleshooting focused on getting EpocCam to work.
Adding team members who can better advise on setups for lighting, audio, and multi-cam support can upgrade the look of this set of handpicked and referred content creators. It’s not scalable if the number of monthly active users grow exponentially, but it is a way to neatly package a proof-of-concept to sell to potential content creators and to brands for sponsorship.
On that note, my first inclination would’ve been to round out the launch lineup by looking for any restaurants or chefs that were already in the streaming space. Maine’s Cong Tu Bot comes to mind, where they went from showcasing the crew playing video games to showing off a kitchen service or two. Their tech setups are superb, pulling in multiple cameras from various locations with clean audio output. Even if they weren’t up for being on the platform, I’d suggest Kittch to pay several consulting hours to them for their expertise of mixing cooking and streaming from something more intricate than Instagram Live.
As an aside, I am aware that the part of Kittch’s promise is that you’d be able to stream from your pop-up or on-the-go easily with minimal equipment. Even with the current setup that a lot of folks have been using at the suggestion of Kittch, it is possible to do it better. I have a a similar portable rig that I bring around for the Goldbelly Live classes, for instance. It can be achieved as easily by educating creators about lighting and creative (and affordable) rigging.
On the importance of education, it seems as though some creators are either: taught to familiarize themselves with the backend by uploading pre-recorded videos; or they are not clearly taught what it means to stream. Short 1- to 10-minute videos make appearances on the website, seamlessly moving from being visibly queued in the “Coming Up” schedule to the '“Recent Highlights” carousel when the launch timestamp hits. In this vein, these videos mitigate the platform’s purpose and instead act like a variation of YouTube’s Premiere function.
The first few instances are innocent enough; however, if this trend of uploading pre-recorded video continues, it poses as a preventable conflict to the platform’s identity and ethos, as it makes me ask myself and probably others, “why not just go to YouTube?”
Is there promise?
To come back to my initial question of whether such a specific platform is needed, I’ll say that it can’t hurt as a vehicle for brand marketing.
The Kittch team is smart enough to promote the diversity of revenue streams to potential creators, especially since they don’t have immediate plans for pre-rolls or other traditional ads. More importantly, they champion the larger social ecosystem and cross-promotion. For example, if you watch toward the end of Madeleine Smithberg’s January 21st stream, someone from Kittch proposes the idea that Madeleine can recirculate the content on her own YouTube channel. It’s definitely not a new idea—Twitch streamers port their highlights to YouTube all the time—but it is refreshing to see a company be open so early in their development to being embedded in the ecosystem, as opposed to being their “own thing”.
The missteps of educating mindset and technology, and of potential legal liability are ones that need to be addressed. Bringing on team members or consultants that have actual experience in this space is crucial, especially at this growth stage. The current team, according to LinkedIn, does not include anyone from the field. Sure, there are those whose backgrounds are in video, but this experience is not meant to be proxy for streaming.
But it looks like there are some improvements being made: a recent job posting for Sr. Product Manager outlines a “[b]ackground in livestreaming/audio/video products preferred”. I’d probably advocate that even their posting for Marketing Director should also have this preference. Bringing on someone whose previous position was tangentially related but at a company in the space will do wonders for Kittch’s growth.