Action sports don’t receive the same amount of media attention as mainstream sports like football and basketball. Oftentimes diehard fans of action sports have to settle for the big competitions or wait until the winter or summer Olympics to enjoy their favorite sport to be broadcast on television or on a streaming service.
Even when action sports receive their primetime coverage spot, the time slot window is often riddled with commercial cutaways, interruptions and commentators who do not fully understand the sport.
Former Apple TV lead designer and action sports enthusiast Ben Keighran is trying to change the narrative around action sports coverage through his social broadcasting company, Caffeine.
Keighran began the company around seven years ago after serving as the Apple TV design lead for several years. Keighran — who is the founder and CEO of Caffeine — says he had a vision for the future company after watching the rise of the live streaming service Twitch.
“I was looking at what was happening at Twitch with all the interactivity and all the social interaction that would happen around live events with different streamers,” Keighran said. “I wondered how that model would sort of apply to the broader broadcasting that we see on live television.”
Keighran saw an opportunity for a new interactive, broadcast company to move into the space that only Twitch was occupying with E-sports streaming. He explored that idea with people at Apple. Despite the prospect, Keighran’s idea was shot down, and so he left the company to start Caffeine.
Since leaving Apple, Keighran has worked with his team over the last seven years to build up the technology, a strong audience and a series of content partners. With close to seven years now into the company, Caffeine has developed a passionate fan base that tunes into broadcasts across the live culture, music and sports space including action sports event staples like Natural Selection, the Dew Tour and the X Games.
“It is doing really well,” Keighran said. “The mission is to build the leading product and community for live broadcasting.”
What sets Caffeine apart from other traditional live broadcast platforms and media television is the social and interactivity of Caffeine.
“There are a lot of different versions of live streaming out there,” Keighran said. “You have live streaming on Instagram or TikTok, but that is more like a FaceTime call with your fans versus trying to do something that at once upon a time could have been on traditional television.”
Unlike live television, Caffeine offers a space for viewers to react in real time to what is being broadcast. Users of Caffeine can express their awe after a snowboarder lands a big trick or when a skateboarder completes a board slide.
“It is like we have with Twitch for gaming, but with all those other things,” Keighran said. “Right now we are at 27.5 million monthly active users in America. I am not sure there is any service that has grouped together these non-mainstream, niche sports that are traditionally not televised.”
One sport that Caffeine has seen huge success from over the past winter season is snowboarding via the Natural Selection Tour.
Keighran says Caffeine introduced its viewers to the Natural Selection Tour after seeing an overlap in interests across the broadcast platform. Caffeine branched out to street-league basketball which then got the platform into skateboarding before finally making the connection to snowboarding.
“We are not sticking to one particular categorization,” Keighran said. “We are feeding the network with more and more stuff that people are into. We are not being overly rigid about it.”
This year, the entirety of the Natural Selection Tour was broadcast on Caffeine, exciting fans of the sport and introducing others to the intense competition on natural terrain.
Over the course of the tour, Caffeine stoked a large audience for the competition with viewers reacting to the jaw-dropping and fear-inducing runs of Hailey Langland, Jared Elston, Ben Ferguson, Travis Rice, Zoi Sadowski-Synnott and more.
The tour’s most recent competition on Wednesday, April 26, in Valdez, Alaska, had 2.4 million views on the platform as of Friday, and the Revelstoke, British Columbia, tour stop on March 6 also had 2.4 million views.
“That is pretty huge, especially if you compare it to other platforms that are out there,” Keighran said. “It is definitely helping them get discovered and reach an audience they may have not been able to reach.”
The broadcasts of the Natural Selection Tour have also helped to expand the growth of Caffeine. Over the course of the last eight months, Caffeine has exponentially grown from 3 million users to just short of 28 million users in just less than six months.
Keighran says Caffeine hopes to continue to bring about growth to the social broadcasting platform by continuing to bring partners like Natural Selection to the Caffeine community and making the platform a reliable home for fans of niche sports.