While most media companies struggled through 2020, gaming was a sector that was seeing a breakthrough. For marketers, the gaming channel had gone from being a clumsy teenage cousin at Thanksgiving to the cool uncle who got the kids spinning around the block in his brand new sports car in a very short time.
Speaking of the holidays, on your socially distant / zoom Thanksgiving this year, do me a favor and ask the younger adults what they’re streaming these days. It’s likely Twitch, Amazon’s gameplay streaming service, where average viewers can watch other (sometimes professional) gamers.
Gaming has become mainstream not only in families. Advertisers have begun to look at the gaming audience with new respect. Famous brands like BMW, Levi’s, Puma and Samsung have become increasingly involved as sponsors and have even entered into partnerships with products on the subject of games like Gucci’s Fanatic X-Uhr. And if anything makes an advertiser sit up and take notice, it’s the 12.3 million live viewers of Travis Scott’s Fortnite concert earlier this year. The numbers are there and marketers are starting to see that “gamers” also represent their target audience.
Now that marketers seem more excited about this concept, where are they going to reach out to gamers? The obvious channel is Twitch – the live streaming platform with 15 million active users per day consuming user generated content from 3 million monthly broadcasters. For example, while the user base is only a fraction of that of TikTok, Twitch makes more money ($ 300 million) than TikTok from advertising alone.
In the past, Twitch has done a great job looking out for its broadcasters and understanding that they are the platform’s lifeblood. So far, Twitch has been pretty friendly with brand and game marketing efforts too. Check out how InnerSloth, a small developer, used Twitch to create a buzz for its Among Us game and took its place in the political noise when Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) signed up for the platform hooked up to play.
Then suddenly Twitch’s advertising MO changed. Before September, streamers could manually run mid-stream ads that were served to their subscribers. Not anymore: Now, mid-stream ads will show to non-paying users everywhere, no matter what. And because the ads are part of the vapor itself, ad blockers no longer work.
As former Overwatch pro and massive streamer Brandon “Seagull” Larned noted, “If I don’t play enough ads, Jeff Bezos will literally come over to my stream and hit the ad button.”
The internet was full of criticism of this ruined experience. Case in point, while the ads use the frame-by-frame feature, which minimizes the stream to a smaller window while the ad is playing, the streamer is muted. Given the impact this has on the Twitch user experience, they wouldn’t have risked the change if it wasn’t worth it. Amazon doesn’t make any major product decisions or monetization shifts. Aside from the user setbacks, I have to wonder if they realized that this is where the same issues arise that affect CTV platforms.
There’s the well-known issue of frequency limiting, and of course the ease with which users can skip ads when using platforms like Apple TV or Fire TV, or peek at their phone during the commercial break. When viewing on the desktop, users can and will open another tab, effectively making the display disappear.
There is also the issue of brand security. Unlike YouTube, which has specific guidelines, Twitch streamers are pretty much self-contained – and not all are family-friendly. In addition, the streams are live. All of that makes it even more of a brand safety nightmare.