It’s been a hell of a week for Twitch, hasn’t it? First, gambling streamer ItsSliker admitted to scamming followers and other streamers out of $200,000 to fund his gambling addiction. Predictably, but hypocritically, a bunch of big streamers called on Twitch to ban gambling streams, which it dutifully did. Well, some of them.
Other streamers, including xQc, Ludwig, and Mizkif worked to pay back scammed fans, before it all descended into grave accusations that seemed to be more about points-scoring than justice. Then, Twitch announced it was reducing the revenue split for big streamers, meaning they’ll earn less money and the platform will make more profit.
Now you’re all caught up, I’ll explain why this last part is particularly bad. I’m not comparing it to any of the other issues this week, but they’ve all been discussed plenty by now, and you can click any of the links above for a bunch more context.
Twitch is reducing the revenue split for its top creators, the creme de la creme who helped “build the Twitch we know today,” to borrow Twitch president Dan Clancy’s words. These are streamers who have premium agreements with the service, and therefore receive a more generous 70/30 split on subscriptions. The vast majority of streamers share their subscription income 50/50. But when the top streamers sign their next agreement with the company after June 2023, their share will drop to the regular rate for any earnings over $100,000 annually.
$100,000 is a lot of money, but this change is inherently anti-creator. Twitch is just taking away up to 33 percent of streamers’ earnings after a certain point, 33 percent that they previously would have earned. The company explains that its costs are high and it is increasing streamers’ ad revenue split as compensation, but that only takes this decision from being anti-creator to being anti-consumer, too. Increasing ad revenue encourages streamers to run more ads to recoup lost income, which in turn encourages viewers to subscribe so you don’t see the adverts. Which means more money in Twitch’s pocket. This is how the company makes money, but incentivising streamers to run more ads while taking a bigger cut from ad-skipping subscriptions is a bad look.
So what can streamers do? Move platforms? You saw what happened to Mixer, and YouTube is still yet to match Twitch’s stature, despite handing out a lot of high profile exclusive contracts. Moving platforms isn’t a guaranteed way to earn more – what’s stopping YouTube from enacting a similar policy in a year’s time? – unionising is.
Twitch knows this already. In Clancy’s letter, he says that Twitch is the best place to stream, “primarily because streamers like you are putting yourselves out there, embracing what you’re most passionate about, and building communities.” Streamers provide every penny of Twitch’s income, and without them the service is bust. Streamers have the power here, if they’re willing to come together.
These changes will only affect the top 10 percent of streamers, according to Clancy, but if even half of them came together to collectively bargain with their employer, I’m sure they could negotiate a better deal. As independent contractors, streamers already miss out on paid holiday, health insurance, and other benefits afforded to full-time positions. These are all things streamers could bargain for, together, as well as arguing to reverse the changes to the revenue share.
A streamer’s union would help the biggest creators in this specific instance, but the benefits could help everyone. Unions reduce wage inequality and collective bargaining helps to more fairly redistribute earnings from the company to the workers. At present, Twitch can make any changes it likes to any of its partner programs or monetary incentives, while raking in the rewards of its streamers’ hard work.
A union wouldn’t just help Twitch streamers, even if it was limited to people who stream on Twitch. Research shows that, as well as unions increasing employee pay by around 20 percent, they increase industry pay in non-unionised workplaces by about five percent. That’s not to say that will happen with Twitch – the independent contracts of streamers are a big difference from standard employment if nothing else – but if streamers are willing to bargain, strike, and even move platforms, negotiating better deals for everyone could be on the table.
Clancy says that Twitch has “the most compelling offer for streamers,” but admits “there’s still more we can do.” But Twitch, like all companies, will put itself first, so it’s not going to do more if streamers don’t demand it.