5 cents on Twitch’s new sub-only stream feature

Welcome everyone to a quick thought train post about streaming although the author hasn’t streamed to any platform in months recently. It’s about the new feature that Twitch has implemented and that seemingly has many Twitch streamers left with mostly negative reactions to the new feature.

skip this paragraph if you hate retrospectives

Alright so, we know that Twitch.tv and formerly Justin.tv was built basically from the ground up by the community for a community. Streaming games and how you play games wasn’t a thing for a very long time for many reasons. Missing high bandwidth internet connections were not a thing for a long time, only really within the last 20 (-ish) years the network that we call the internet today really offers enough bandwidth for a huge span of users to both output and receive the vast amount of videofeeds that are out there to be consumed, mostly for free.

The early days where companies were able to offer their services for free instead of requiring the user to pay for quality features led to the userbase’s of these services to grow faster than any other company. Think of YouTube for once, as their unlimited uploads in numbers were only limited by a 15 minute maximum per video post. Nowadays there is no difference anymore between “partnered” YouTube channels and those that create an account today from scratch other than that you’re able to earn money from the ads that play on your videos.

Uploads are these days unlimited in number, length, resolution (up to the current highest technical standard even). The same thing applies to Twitch in many ways, as you don’t need to pay to sign up for their website to be able to stream or view content, but it is much more fun to do so for you can participate in the community and interact with other people that are having the same interests as you.

The change to premium access

Today Twitch made subscriber-only streams available for beta access to any partnered streamer that has an account in good standing for the last 90 days. This does limit the ability to view a stream to only these Twitch.tv users that have subscribed to the channel. You can view a preview of that stream for up to 5 minutes. Should you want to, you can join in by just subscribing to that channel.

The idea seems simple, the reactions to this though are split, mostly towards a negative attitude towards the feature, as it compromises one of the core pillars of Twitch: freely available content. I guess that could be the whole internet in a sense, free content without the user needing to do anything extra (what they sell instead is their private data deeply buried within the terms of service contracts you ever so often hear an update about but mostly just accept and continue with your life anyway).

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This feature actually was seen being tested a month ago already. I very much want to include the contribution of the Dropped Frames podcast here talking about the feature and their possible uses:

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All three streamers, ItMeJP, CohhCarnage and Ezekiel III have very good reasons as to why the feature is useful and why it is most likely not intended for the regular streamer to be used often or even at all. So I base my 5 cents article mainly on the thoughts that have been shared here already, I’ll of course won’t transcribe the section of the podcast but instead will use it as a base for my own reasons. You’ve been informed, let’s speculate!

Sub-only Streams are not for you

Think about it, Twitch wants to constantly increase revenue for the company as the mother company, Amazon, wants to constantly increase the revenue for their shareholders. So adding new features that increase monetization is just logical for Twitch. However, it is not mandatory, nor can I see this feature to become at any point in time become mandatory for any current streamer that does not want this feature to be used for their own channel. Instead, my assumption as to why Twitch made this new feature a thing in the first place was a way to open up a whole new kind of streaming entity ready to join the platform: big corperations.

Not every company that has digital assets at their hands wants to build the next streaming service in the vain of Netflix and the like. Why would they, it may not be necessary. For example, some company that has the rights and material to stream just like a TV station. Instead of doing that though they can have full control when an episode airs, if and how many in-stream ads they want to display and so on. Or, alternatively, how about certain organisations like Fifa or in general American sports leagues are going to stream all matches of their next big tournament on Twitch themselves? No more licensing out to TV stations (which will probably still happen), but only their own self-hosted stream on Twitch is now the way to experience the event, paid by each person through a single subscription. Think of big UFC fights, boxing matches and the like.

Of course, this idea could also be used by you and me, the average person to start up a premium channel if the content is interesting enough and does attract enough attention, but for that to happen there’s already loads of things needed beforehand like publicity, attention and a product that people want to consume live via videostreams. Based on what CohhCarnage said in the linked above podcast snippet, it is also a disadvantage to your channel. The idea is that you constantly want to direct as many new pairs of eyes to your channel and content as possible or else you’ll stagnate or even lose following and subscribers. That is more or less how people naturally tend to stay around as a paying customer (in that sense) for only a limited time in the Twitch world.

this model is expensive for the consumer

Another thing that is puzzling to me. With all the upcoming streaming services from Netflix, Amazon Prime and soon also Disney+ and even the likes of NBC doing their own streaming service soon according to rumours, the cost of digital consumption by the individual user is going to sky-rocket. Instead of having the quality of having one service for all media easily accessible to you, soon again you’ll have to subscribe to every individual service to be able to consume all the different things that are spread over multiple rights owners.

What would be more reasonable for me, is to join a special Twitch premium tier. This account tier could both give me back again my website wide ad-free experience and additional access to special events like the Twitch Presents marathons. Partnering constantly with companies to deliver premium livestream experiences that are indeed subscription-only livestreams, while paying out those with the rights to the media.

But who knows, maybe this is indeed a thing that can still come out soon by Twitch. For now, many people are either puzzled or just outright dismissing the feature, which is fair enough after all. Considering the rise of free content on the internet and how community interaction and growth as a creator/entertainer is based on easy and mostly also free access to the content, I can’t see this feature being used frequently by any individual streamer.

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