Twitch Streamers Are Furious About New Mid-Stream Ads They Can’t Control

Twitch Streamers Are Furious About New Mid-Stream Ads They Can’t Control
A parody of Twitch's new mid-stream ads. (Screenshot: GottaBeHenry)

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 utilise 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 — who don’t have large, dedicated audiences but are looking to convert people into long-term subscribers (who, in turn, do not have to watch ads) — more than big names. Viewers who haven’t subscribed to a streamer are less likely to stick around, or even channel surf 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.

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  • I’ve seen several streamers recommend their viewers use an adblocker because the revenue they get from those ads is so little.

    YouTube did similar with deciding that ad points now have to have two ads instead of just one.

    • This raises an interesting question about whether these ads are affecting people subscribed to Twitch Prime. I didn’t see any mention of it in the article, but if they play for everyone – or if the streamer is forced to trigger an ad break that means they’re not streaming themselves – that would mean that you are both the product AND paying for the product.

      • Twitch prime doesnt give ad free viewing anymore, (hasnt for like 2 years) only twitch turbo gives ad free viewing. I picked up twitch prime back in august 2017 and later that month came the news that ad free viewing was being removed from twitch prime, so i cancelled it went for turbo instead. i dont give a shit about all the shit you get with prime, i only care about having zero ads play

        • I think his point was more that even if you don’t have to see the ads you have to sit through the space the ad fills. Like I’m streaming and I don’t want the ads popping up randomly, so I trigger one every hour* to keep Twitch happy and stop it interrupting me, that means I have a break every hour. Personally I’d just hit pause on the game and go pee or grab a snack. At the very least hydration break and a stretch. Anyone watching that doesn’t have to view ads gets an hourly chair stream.
          Sure I can keep going for the people who don’t see ads but it creates a bit of a wall that leaves non-subs feeling left out and less likely to engage with the stream.

          I dunno, it’s really interesting to me because these aren’t people with business backgrounds but since they’re making the decisions at the ‘company’ on every level they almost intuitively figure out all the issues with the free money button.

          *Not sure what the actual numbers are.

  • It’s sad because Twitch is owned by a man who’s so rich that he could just take advertising away from Twitch forever, and pay every affiliate and partnered streamer $10000 a month to stay on the platform.

    Yet he chooses not to do that. It’s so fucking weird.

    • I dont know. If it started to use his riches for good, like say another of the world most wealthy people, suddenly there would thousands of ridiculous people connecting him to all manner of irrational badness.

    • I’d be genuinely curious to see what the running costs of Twitch would be for a month.

      But minus all the other departments of the company (like marketing) that simply aren’t integral to keeping the bare machinery firing.

  • You’d think even from an evil point of view Twitch wouldn’t want regular ad rolls. I mean when do you realise what you’ve been watching isn’t actually that interesting? The ad break. What makes you aware of how much time you’re wasting? Regularly spaced ad breaks.

    On top of that one of the biggest financial advantages Twitch has over YouTube is the money comes from the viewers. They’re not at the whim of ad revenue so they don’t have to worry about some edgelord doing a white power stream and decimating their ability to sell ad space. I know people are dumb enough to consider any unclaimed cent worth chasing to the bitter end but the ad game doesn’t seem like something Twitch would want to start relying on.

    • YouTube has been adding those same kind of direct user payment features over the last year or so. You can pay a monthly fee to become a “member” of a channel, and on live streams viewers can pay to give their chat messages extra prominence. In both cases, the revenue is shared with the channel owner.

      • Heh. YouTube feels so weird about it. I can’t tell if it’s because they already had subscriptions as a feature, they don’t want to look like they’re copying Twitch, or if they’re just trying to make it seem like it’s not about money, but the terminology feels really jarring. Join the community! Don’t donate, superchat! Definitely has that your parents won’t understand what you’re asking for vibe to it.

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