Why Twitch’s push to woo publishers is facing challenges in 2024

As Twitch looks to widen its appeal to advertisers, the company is finding itself increasingly hamstrung by its DNA as a platform for individual streamers and creators.

Last year, the Amazon-owned livestreaming platform ended a series of multi-year, multi-million-dollar contracts that it had signed with publishers such as Complex, Vice and Rolling Stone, as reported by Adweek last week. The partnerships, inked during the explosion in Twitch viewership sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic, were reportedly intended to draw more advertisers onto the live streaming platform through an infusion of premium, high-production-value content.

“Amazon’s going after non-endemic advertising partners,” said Sam Bloom, head of partner strategy at the agency PMG. “That’s a huge push.”

Despite these lofty goals, representatives of multiple publishers told Digiday that their Twitch channels had been stymied from the start, feeling the platform never made the adjustments necessary to be an inviting playing ground for publishers and media organizations.

When Wired special projects editor Alan Henry reached out to Twitch to explore opening an official channel for the magazine in 2020, he felt he was given the same treatment as any other individual streamer looking to use the streaming service, rather than the more detailed consideration that other platforms might afford a Condé Nast publication.

“We’ve seen that in some situations, Twitch would bend its rules a little bit to immediately [give Twitch] Partner [status to] organizations and publications — but when we met with them, they didn’t really seem interested in doing that with us,” Henry said. “They were just like, ‘well, once you guys get affiliate, and once you have a certain number of stream hours, you can apply for partner.’ As I got more into Twitch, I realized they were just telling us the same thing that they would tell anybody who signed up.”

While some publications did manage to sign specific deals from Twitch — including the three listed above — Henry told Digiday that he soon realized that Twitch was designed to be most accessible to individual streamers rather than publications with multiple leaders or stakeholders. In addition to navigating Twitch’s relative lack of discovery tools, he found that the platform gave Wired less control over the types of ads that would run alongside its content than competing services such as YouTube.

“From a corporate perspective, Condé Nast wanted a say in what ads we were running against our content. I think most publishers care about that kind of thing,” said Henry, who last streamed for Wired in 2022. “And with Twitch being owned by Amazon, Amazon was like, ‘you get whatever ads we want to run — you don’t have a choice.’ If there was some way for us to discuss that with someone, we would love to, but Twitch didn’t seem very interested in discussing it.”

There was also the fact that many of the techniques that have traditionally helped Twitch streamers boost their viewership were and are of little use to larger publications. Individual creators on Twitch are able to treat streaming as a full-time job — an approach encouraged by the platform — but publishers have largely approached Twitch as an experiment for staff to try on their off hours, instead of hiring specific staff to man their channels, making it difficult for them to stream at a rate that would spark genuine growth.

“If you want to do livestreaming, you’ve got to understand that it’s like a full-time job. The average stream on Twitch is over five hours, and you need to do it on a regular cadence, on a regular schedule,” said Or Perry, co-founder of the livestreaming services provider StreamElements. “If you take that into the corporate world or the publication world, it means that the bottom line, the cost per hour of content, is much, much higher.”

Twitch still maintains partnerships with publishers across the media industry, including a partnership with the Vice-owned Refinery29, whose still-active Twitch channel hosted the platform’s first third-party live shopping experience in 2023. This type of experience represents a new revenue stream that might be more attractive to publishers than subscriptions and donations, which have traditionally supported individual Twitch streamers. 

“We know people can make money from being streamers, but on a corporate or organizational level, the path isn’t clear,” said Juwan Holmes, a journalist and Twitch affiliate streamer who was a guest on Rolling Stone’s final Twitch broadcast. “There aren’t examples of large-scale media organizations that have profited solely from streaming in a way that others can emulate. For example, Rolling Stone, Complex and Vice all came in with massive brand identities and other paths of revenue, such as sponsors or repurposing content to YouTube, that helped them obtain more time and grace than most organizations typically offer.”

A Twitch spokesperson described the company’s partnership with Refinery29 as a collaborative selling agreement, through which Twitch collaborates with the publisher to develop content packages that can then be sold to brands or advertisers. Per the spokesperson, Twitch is confident in this model of publisher partnership and plans to continue using it moving forward, both with Refinery29 and with other publisher partners such as Tastemade and the NBA.

And in spite of its struggles to become a marketing platform with broader appeal, Twitch remains the default entry point for brands looking to reach gamers without spending on more expensive methods such as branded Roblox worlds or in-depth livestream integrations. To become truly profitable, Twitch will have to thread the needle of widening its appeal to premium advertisers without losing this hold on the increasingly desirable gamer audience — a difficult, but potentially extremely lucrative, task. 

“I think Twitch becomes part of a larger Amazon story, which is awesome for those endemic advertisers or folks that are going after really specific gamer segments,” Bloom said. “But for those providers that want to just really target ‘men, 18’ or ‘females,’ it’ll be part of the inventory tool, and I think that makes it far more accessible.”

https://digiday.com/?p=532723

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