Sleeping with the Frenemy; or, a closer look at YouTube’s possible acquisition of Twitch


Some rather interesting news over the weekend. Game-changing news.

If rumors be true, then Twitch is in talks to be acquired by video-on-demand giant YouTube (or, Google by extension) for around $1 billion.

Naturally when a giant corporation seeks to buy out a smaller one, particularly when such little information about the transaction has been made public, a huge outpouring of protest results. For example:

There are certainly concerns that need to be addressed, but there are also some positives that can be seen with the acquisition that should be considered as soon as the tables that have been flipped from the nerdrage are set upright. 😉

Because I like to end on a positive note, let’s discuss the initial concerns that has the gaming community specifically up in arms.

YouTube’s Copyright Detection Tech Left a Sour Taste In Gamers’ Mouths

Last December, YouTube launched its Content ID system which enabled it to scan uploaded video content for material which it deemed to be in violation of copyrights and regulated or penalized such content on behalf of their original holders. As reported then, gamers, such as those who offered playthroughs or game reviews, were falling victim to the copyright violations. This meant that any revenue generated by the advertisements running on the video content was being redirected from the video creator to the copyright holder of the material in question.

As I had previously written on this subject, I noted that the culprit for most of the copyright claims were musical in nature. The result was an uproar in the gaming community as content was being flagged left and right leaving behind more confusion than anything else.

YouTube responded to anger unflintchingly:

If you’re creating videos with content from other people, remember that rights ownership can be complicated and different owners have different policies. Be aware of music. Many games allow you to turn off background music, while leaving sound effects enabled.

Essentially YouTube took a rather cold posture. But it is understandable. As I wrote then, so shall I reiterate content created by others should be owned by the creator. However, there are multiple layers of content being used in any one video posted to YouTube . The policies and technologies are simply meant to protect users and the company itself from the myriad of possible lawsuits it would face (and did face in the past when it was more liberal with its video posting policies).

As news spread rapidly about YouTube’s acquisition of Twitch over the weekend, it was only natural that concerns about how YouTube’s Content ID technology would affect livestreams on Twitch dominated online conversation amongst prominent gamers in the Twitch community.

There are some legitimate concerns. As before, there is worry that unintentional copyright claims might flag streamers’ content inhibiting them in some way. Such situations would have an adverse affect on the revenue broadcasters gain from their subscriptions (more on this in a bit).

The secondary version of this (and not-so-legitimate) concern can be summarized by the following common sentiment amongst those commenting on this entire acquisition and exemplified in the Tweet above:

“Goodbye to being able to play whatever music I want while I stream.”

Okay, so here’s where I play Devil’s Advocate:

While it’s truly amazing the relationship broadcasters on Twitch have with not only their audiences but with the publishers of the content they stream, there are certain liberties that Twitch broadcasters have taken that were on a rather short expiration date, namely being able to stream music content alongside their gameplay and the smarter streamers saw this coming long ago.


Look familiar? It’s the warning that plays before any film on at-home media be it VHS (if you have to ask, you’re too young), DVD or streamed online. And while these warnings specifically target motion picture, music falls under the protection of the very copyright laws this warning is meant to inform are in place. For example, you might hear a song in a movie, but if you play the extra content on the DVD where the director is commenting in a behind-the-scenes interview about the scene in which that song was played, you likely won’t hear the song at all. This is because the license to use the song doesn’t extend beyond the motion picture and playing it in the extra footage would be illegal.

In short, playing music during a streaming session is a copyright violation despite whatever comforts or expressions of freedom people who protest Twitch’s buyout would claim.

To put it another way, one cannot freely use content to their liking simply because of a sense of entitlement or ownership. When it comes to creative content, when purchased through proper channels, you don’t buy the content, you buy the license or permission to use it as the CREATORS intended. That intention is simply for one’s own personal enjoyment.

Of course there exists the ability to use this content in ways other than originally intended, but streaming music content during a Twitch broadcast without consent of the copyright holder is not one of them. So I reiterate…

…smarter broadcasters knew this liberty they enjoyed would be short-lived  and as such some have left to new streaming services and others have simply adapted.

In the end, the choice is up to the streamer if this is something for which they feel is worth severing their content with their audience. Because there are some great benefits to this merger. And with this ugliness out of the way, let’s look at some of them.

The ability to solicit donations will likely change because of YouTube’s nonprofit policies

While the initial fear of YouTube yanking broadcasters “donate” buttons is still yet to be discussed, what will likely happen is enabling streamers to become YouTube partners in the way Twitch currently invites popular streamers to become sponsored partners. As it stands, Twitch’s subjective policies require proof of a large followership before the mere possibility of a chance, but with YouTube’s recently revamped partnership program, clearer stated requirements will outline a path for more streamers to become partners which mutually aligns itself with YouTube’s desire to increase such partnerships.

The downside of course is that non-partnership streamers on Twitch who currently gain revenue through “donate” button solicitations would likely have to cease such solicitation as they would likely be considered to operate outside of YouTube’s non-profit creator specifications. Understandable is the discontent broadcasters have with the possibility of this change, but this is another example of a short-lived liberty that should have been enjoyed knowing limitation or restriction would be placed upon it at some point.

Google Services Integration Means Ease of Sharing Content

While Google may be drawing down on its forced Google+ integration among its online properties, offering such capability would have a profound impact on how audiences are notified when broadcasters go live. Additionally, the ease of connecting and adding viewers in a manner similar to adding people to G+ Circles would enable users to find the content and related content they wish to view. My guesstimation is that you will NOT need a Google+ account to access Twitch because recent shake-ups in that division of Google would account for such a direction. But with the integration, it will make it harder to not at least consider linking a Google+ account.

Streamers will also likely gain increased exposure through YouTube’s featuring capabilities and expansive reach to its much lauded 1Billion+ users. PCWorld’s Hayden Dingman explains it more eloquently:

And most importantly, Google offers an enormous audience—the type of audience that probably doesn’t even know what is. That means more streamers can build a following, more viewers can behold the spontaneous creativity of the likes of Twitch Plays Pokemon, and there’s more incentive for third-parties to invest in creating “make my life easier” streaming tools, be it open-source software like OBS or premium products like Fraps.

Archiving and Video-On-Demand Transfer Will Be Much Easier

It goes without saying that Twitch broadcasters who capture their live content and archive it for Video-On-Demand content on their coinciding YouTube accounts will find it easier to do so when the parent company of their Twitch channel also owns their YouTube channel. Traffic driven to broadcaster’s channels on both services offer a cross-functional capability of gaining and sustaining audiences over time. Such cross-promotion will only enhance broadcasters’ revenue-generating methodologies if gaining revenue is their goal, keeping in mind that some content creators seek only audience and not money.

Overall, Once the Initial Cloud of Fear and Rage Have Dissipated, This Transaction Should Be Good For All Users

While most of what I have discussed is simply generalization and assumptive in nature due to the lack of details from this acquisition, in the end, one has to realize Twitch was growing too large too fast. It was a system that wasn’t meant to sustain such large numbers of broadcasters and viewers so it was only natural to seek backing by a company which has the resources to  support the service.

YouTube’s imperfect track record might make people uneasy, but I would imagine it learned some harsh lessons when Content ID launched and will take those into consideration when merging YouTube and Twitch services. Both Twitch and YouTube likely foresaw user outrage, so it’s probably with trepidation they proceed so that users do not feel alienated, jilted, or ousted by the outcome.

Once again, putting in generally: YouTube would be stupid to mess with the operability, ease of use, chatting and exploration features of Twitch’s services. YouTube will gain a gamer’s paradise and it must treat it as such.

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