The internet is a hell dimension powered by unchecked data collection and advertisements. In an ideal world, ads would be kept to a minimum, allowed only on the backs of magazines people keep in their bathrooms, which nobody actually reads. But even in this fallen world, there’s a point at which ad proliferation becomes ridiculous. For Twitch streamers, Twitch’s new ad experiment just crossed that line.
Yesterday afternoon, Twitch announced that it’s “testing” new mid-stream ads that streamers have no direct control over.
“Beginning in September, as part of an ad experiment, some viewers may begin to notice that they are receiving ads during streams that others in a channel aren’t receiving,” the company wrote on its website. “Like pre-rolls, these are ads triggered by Twitch, not by the creator.”
Crucially, these ads utilize Twitch’s “picture-by-picture” functionality, which basically means that the stream you’re watching pops out into a smaller window while the ad rolls in the main window. However, ads will still steal the show from some viewers, with streamers none the wiser as to who can hear what they’re saying (picture-by-picture mutes streams) and, therefore, understand what’s happening on stream while ads are playing.
Twitch added that if streamers have triggered an ad break of their own recently, then automated mid-stream ads won’t run for a little while. What that means, though, is that one way or another, streamers now have to run mid-stream ads. Even though they technically still have a choice when it comes to manually running ads, this new feature means that ads will show up no matter what.
On a platform where amassing viewers is everything—a statement Twitch has definitively made through the way the site tracks metrics and, therefore, success—the last thing streamers want is for prospective fans to get fed up and depart in the middle of an ad. Streamers are, predictably, furious about Twitch’s new initiative, even if it’s just an “experiment” for now.
“You’re not YouTube,” said Twitch partner ThatBronzeGirl on Twitter in response to Twitch’s announcement. “When ads play in the middle of the stream, viewers actively miss out on content (muted or not). Add this to the fact that viewers are hit with an ad as soon as they enter a stream, so channel surfing is cumbersome. Idk why y’all hate viewer retention.”
“This means either one of two things happens: 1) I schedule a break in the stream to have control over ads running that are proven to drive viewers away. 2) Viewers get an ad randomly that is all but guaranteed to drive them away. Which of those is for us though?” said variety streamer Deejay Knight.
“If I don’t play enough ads, Jeff Bezos literally comes to my stream and pushes the ad button, what do I do,” said former Overwatch pro Seagull.
Others outlined specific scenarios that illustrate how these ads are at odds with the way streams actually work.
“A streamer could be talking about suicide prevention, and up pops an ad,” said Scottish Twitch partner Limmy. “Depending on the implementation, the streamer would either be unaware, which is bad, or the streamer has to announce a forced ad break at an inappropriate time.”
“Entire directories that rely on audio just booted into the wind: ASMR, Just Chatting, Music,” a smaller streamer, GlacierRays, said in response to the fine-print details of how Twitch’s picture-by-picture functionality actually works. “And gaming channels being muted for minutes at a time in a tiny box while several ads play instead isn’t exactly great.”
“We’re not all Overwatch and Fortnite,” said dungeon master MontyGlu. “In narrative streams such as DnD live shows and RPG game streams, 10-30 seconds removed could completely deprive people of story, context and investment.”
Some even went so far as to create video mock ups of ads crashing through spontaneous moments—the sort streaming thrives on—like the gosh darn Kool-Aid Man:
As ever, this stands to disproportionately impact smaller and mid-sized streamers. These streamers don’t have large, dedicated audiences, so they’re looking to convert viewers into long-term subscribers (who, in turn, do not have to watch ads). Viewers who haven’t subscribed to a streamer are less likely to stick around, or even channel surf away from more established names at all, if they’re being stopped by ads at every turn.
But therein lies the issue: These days, streamers make a significant chunk of their money from subscriptions, donations, and brand deals. Twitch, however, still relies on ad revenue. This means that Twitch is incentivized to turn its website into a gaudy ad collage while streamers are incentivized to avoid running ads whenever possible. Ad blockers and the way Twitch is structured—the company’s own decision-making—are responsible for this economic schism.
“While I’m not allowed to say specifics, Twitch has the worst CPM ad-revenue share to creators with their standard contracts (read: not the big shots with custom negotiated rates),” said Minecraft YouTuber and Twitch streamer KurtJMac. “They want ads to run because they make bank. Pay a fair rate to creators and we’d be glad to run ads!”
Admittedly, additional ads do mean more money for creators. As industry insider and streamer Devin Nash put it: “Creators deserve a higher cut of Twitch CPM rates, I 100% agree. This, however, is a separate discussion. The ad deal is: 5% loss in content (3/60 min), 3-7% loss in viewers (people leaving from ads) for 30-40% more income (extra creator earnings from ads). This is a good trade.”
Many others, however, disagreed with his numbers estimation, saying that the bump in their earnings from ads would not be anywhere near that significant, and they would likely lose out on enough viewers and subscribers for this change to hurt their bottom lines more than it’d help.
For now, though, Twitch is staying the course. “We will be monitoring the data from this experiment coupled with your feedback to improve and provide a better experience over time,” the company said on Twitter.
If nothing else, Twitch will have a lot of feedback to work with.