Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge
The live-streaming wars aren’t really about streaming at all: they’re about the future of live television. The combatants — Twitch, Mixer, and Caffeine, at the moment, although Facebook and YouTube shouldn’t be counted out just yet — have their own visions for what that looks like, and what it should mean for consumers. To that end, Twitch, Mixer, and Caffeine have begun to compete in earnest over exclusive deals for big names in streaming.
What’s interesting about those deals is that they seem to overlook the internet video elephant in the room: YouTube. Most of the biggest live-streamers on the internet also post videos of their streams to the site, which nets them extra money without making them do more work. That means YouTube is the real winner of this competition for streamers. Twitch and Mixer are spending huge sums on talent — and YouTube is still reaping the benefits.
YouTube has been the internet’s favorite video hosting site for the last decade; as it’s grown up, it’s changed the texture and culture of the internet. To young people, YouTube is where things happen. Like high school, it’s got its own conventions, dramas, and rivalries. Most big streamers are fairly young themselves, and grew up bathed in the internet’s blue-light glow. To them, YouTube is as familiar as, say, their childhood bedrooms, which makes it a natural home for whatever videos they happen to produce.
That goes for all the site’s top creators. Turner “Tfue” Tenney, who has more than 7 million followers on Twitch — and who is currently the site’s most followed active channel — has 11.3 million subscribers on YouTube, and his uploads, which include content from Twitch, routinely clear the million-view mark. That makes him one of YouTube’s top stars, too.
At present, influence online is platform agnostic. While it’s still possible to make your name on one platform and move your fans elsewhere, there’s no reason to believe that will continue. Just today, YouTube announced it had struck an exclusive live-streaming deal with Lachlan, a Fortnite YouTuber who has 12 million subscribers on the platform. During Fortnite’s “The End” event a couple weeks ago, he pulled in 198,976 concurrent viewers — which dwarfed Tim “TimtheTatman” Betar’s stream the next day, which brought 100,000 viewers to Twitch.
If YouTube decides to enter the live-streaming wars in earnest — which it shows every sign of doing — the landscape promises to change dramatically again.