Has superstar creator pay peaked now that Twitch has cooled competition with YouTube?
Photo: Caspar Camille Rubin
Twitch’s annual showcase in Las Vegas was the moment new chief executive Dan Clancy put his stamp on the business. What surprised many – and delighted creators – was his decision to significantly cool competition with YouTube and other livestreaming platforms by giving his blessing to simulcasting. From now on, creators on Twitch will no longer be banned from broadcasting the same stream on YouTube. Creators welcomed the move because many use Twitch and YouTube as complimenting forces to grow their communities. Twitch creators may use the platform for their live content, but many then upload videos of that stream on YouTube so audiences can watch and engage when they are not live. They then supplement this content with unique long-form YouTube videos and Shorts to satisfy an audience which primarily engages with their content on YouTube.
Twitch has become more tolerant of creators using other social video platforms to boost their reach because they see a benefit in the trade-off. If creators can amass a significant following on TikTok and then bring a slice of that community back to Twitch for livestreams, that is a win for both platforms. Simulcasting Twitch livestreams on TikTok and Instagram has been allowed since August 2022, but YouTube has always been a red line. After all, what is the incentive for a YouTube viewer to seek out a creator’s livestream on Twitch if that same livestream is already being simulcasted on YouTube? What is more, if the creator begins their livestream on Twitch, but a viewer discovers that same stream on YouTube, it is YouTube, not Twitch, that recoups the financial reward if that viewer decided to donate to the creator. For that particular viewer, Twitch has lost the opportunity to recoup the cost of hosting that creator’s livestream on its servers. Of course, this is made more problematic when YouTube is poaching creators from Twitch with exclusive deals.
So why make the change now? Clancy told a packed audience at TwitchCon Las Vegas on Friday (October 20th 2023) that “[creators] should have the freedom to decide which services you want to live stream on”. This was a win for creators, but there are advantages for Twitch as well. Twitch and YouTube have become embroiled in a skirmish over superstar creators, with the latter offering exclusive deals to bring the likes of Ludwig, Dr Lupo, and Valkyrae over from Twitch. This is good for superstar creators who can maximise their commercial gains by being at the centre of a bidding war, but bad for platforms who have to spend huge sums to secure talent. Simulcasting drastically reduces the spend on exclusive deals. How do you poach a creator who has the freedom to simulcast their livestream to any platform?
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Yet, this is more than just a lesser of two evils for Twitch. By offering simulcasting, they are also re-opening the door to those creators who left for YouTube in the first place. By making this move, Twitch is shifting the frontline in its battle with YouTube. The fight is now targeted towards who can offer the best experience for audiences and creators, rather than who can pay superstar creators the most money. The decision audiences and creators must make is which service they prioritise as the primary place for consuming and creating content. Is it Twitch’s superiority when it comes to fostering community and culture around livestreaming content? Or is it YouTube’s strength in content discovery and versatility, with its powerful search engine and content distribution through Shorts?
Will innovation suffer?
Such a big move will have ramifications for creators and the platforms. For example, could this easing of competition put less pressure on the platforms to innovate? YouTube’s bullishness in prising away superstar creators from Twitch will have played a part in forcing Twitch to create new tools and features that made it better for creators and audiences alike. This move will also herald a reset in superstar creator pay. Disruptor Kick may still be offering big contracts to live streamers, but this remains a short-term audience land grab that may not be sustainable in the long run. While a few superstar creators will continue to reap big rewards, some who previously qualified for exclusive deals will now fall short of that mark.As a result, finding new ways to keep the next generation of superstar creators has, by default, become Twitch and YouTube’s strategic goal now that competition has softened and there are fewer big cheques being signed to secure creator talent. This should ultimately be beneficial for innovation among both creator functionality and for consumers engaging with their content.