Twitch, like so many other platforms on the “free” Internet, runs on ads. These ads are annoying as hell. They also represent a raw deal for the majority of streamers. Soon, however, both those things are going to change.
As part of today’s TwitchCon opening ceremony, the company announced a slew of upcoming changes, including a new creator dashboard, new channel pages, improved moderation tools, and a system that will allow viewers to earn points that they can exchange for channel-specific rewards. The company also announced a surprisingly sweeping overhaul of the way advertisements work on the site, which will begin to roll out in the next two weeks.
Soon, ads will play picture-in-picture with streams – as opposed to steamrolling over them – and streamers will have the option of disabling pre-roll ads altogether in favour of regular ad breaks. Twitch affiliates will also soon earn money from ads, a perk that has historically been reserved only for partners. When regular, non-affiliate or partner users broadcast, meanwhile, there’ll be no video ads at all, so as to ensure that every ad playing on a channel supports that channel. Ads will also play at the same volume as whatever else you’re watching at the time. Thank god.
Currently, ads play before and during streams, and they preempt whatever stream you’re trying to watch. Tuning in for a big moment you just learned is about to happen via Twitter or word of mouth? Too bad. You might miss it because a brand needed to yell at you about gamer fuel or whatever. Oh, and I don’t use the term “yell” lightly; ads are often louder than the streams you’re watching, forcing viewers to adjust the volume unless they want ringing in their ears.
Theoretically, these changes also make things better for streamers, who risked losing fickle viewers to ads they had little control over and – in the case of vanilla users and affiliates – from which they weren’t receiving a single penny. Now they’ll at least receive some money, and the new system will even give them an estimated payout on ads. On top of that, it removes yet another barrier between affiliates and partners, cutting down on the stratification between what are essentially gamified tiers that gate people from being able to make sustainable money from their labour. That stratification is far from eliminated, but anything that makes it less severe is a win for streamers in the long run.
But here’s the rub of it all: during the opening ceremony, Twitch CEO Emmett Shear said that these changes were prompted by the fact that “we’re encouraging people to run a lot more regular ad breaks”. Twitch is, after all, a platform in the modern era of media. That means it’s in the ad business, and of the ways streamers make money – which also include viewer donations and subscriptions, as well as sponsorships from companies – ads most heavily favour Twitch in terms of consistently generated revenue. For most streamers, ads are a relatively small part of their business compared to the aforementioned other options.
Twitch has ample reasons to want affiliates and partners – streamers with actual audiences – to run more ads. It makes the company more money in the short term and makes ad deals on the platform more attractive to prospective buyers, since their ads will be viewed by actual eyeballs. Previously, Twitch could not make that guarantee, given that viewers were getting annoyed and leaving before ads concluded, and many ads were playing ahead of non-affiliate/partners’ broadcasts, which often have zero viewers. So yes, on one hand, we’re getting fewer annoying ads, but we’ll also be getting more of them and, odds are, in the grand scheme of things the system will continue to benefit Twitch significantly more than it does most streamers.