For the eSports community, the question of what to do if and when YouTube buys Twitch, a service favored among pro gamers, comes down to trust.
YouTube's decision to implement its automated copyright system lost it the confidence of many in the eSports and streaming community — After all, how how can you support the pro-gaming community with video content when you face legal repercussions? While it remains unclear whether the company will bring this system to Twitch, YouTube would still have to regain a lot of trust if the deal comes through, content creators say.
"Overall, I think a lot of people are very worried about the YouTube acquisition because of the ContentID problems that Let's Players faced in the last couple months," eSports commentator Matt Demers tells Polygon. "With streaming revenue being a big part of pro players' income and a safety net in case they're released from their teams, I could see the situation needing a specific level of care. People trust Twitch because they 'get' gaming, and that's how things like TwitchPlaysPokemon or Saltybet were able to grow and thrive. As with any acquisition by a large company, people are a bit nervous that the same level of concern will be ported over."
The future is copyrighted
YouTube made waves when the company's Content ID system reared its head, sending copyright violation notices to users based on automated content scanning. Content ID, developed first by Google, works by allowing copyright owners to identify and manage their content on YouTube. When videos are uploaded to the website, they are scanned against a database of files that are submitted by content owners, and if they match, the legal owners can make a decision about what happens next by filing a Content ID claim.
As a result, gamers who post video reviews, Let's Plays and related content have faced difficulties in monetizing content due to what YouTube deems a violation to copyright laws.
Whether you can use video game content for monetization depends on the commercial use rights granted to you by the license from the applicable video game publisher," reads YouTube's official user support for monetizing video game walkthroughs. "Some video game publishers may allow you to use all video game content for commercial use and confirm such permission in their licensing agreements.
"In other licensing agreements, publishers may not grant commercial rights for videos that simply show game play for extended periods of time. For these licensing terms, the use of video games must be minimal unless the associated step-by-step commentary provides instructional and/or educational value and is strictly tied to the live action being shown."
It's still unclear, however, whether this will be the fate of Twitch.
While Twitch currently operates under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, meaning the streaming company must be contacted directly by a copyright owner in order to initiate the DCMA process, it doesn't maintain a YouTube-styled automated Content ID system. Likewise, Twitch does not check into user copyrights unprovoked.
But under YouTube's wing, it will likely see pressure to adopt a similarly automated copyright system, Electronic Frontier Foundation's Parker Higgins tells Polygon.
When a service gets acquired by Google, the pressure to adopt some kind of algorithmic enforcement is even greater.
"There's a lot of pressure on user-generated content sites to implement something like ContentID, and much of that pressure comes from media companies that aren't concerned with whether that software can accommodate factors like fair use," says Higgins.
"Of course, when a service gets acquired by Google, which developed ContentID in the first place, the pressure to adopt some kind of algorithmic enforcement is even greater."
Significantly, whether a change to the current Twitch policies will see game streaming users flock to a new streaming platform is also unclear.
Beyond its successful branding as a gamer's haven, Twitch has historically offered some companies contracts to stream their games at a higher CPM, business relations at ESGN Michael Cohen-Palacios tells Polygon.
Currently Twitch users can monetize their accounts on the basis that they have at least 500 concurrent viewers on a regular basis. Once this is achieved, they can be accepted as a Twitch partner and receive the option to place a subscriber button on their stream. This allows viewers to support the stream by signing up to it for $4.99 per month, while 50 percent of revenue is shared with Twitch.
YouTube, on the other hand, takes roughly 45 percent of its users' total revenue which is based on a metric calculated by dividing the cost of advertising placement with the thousands of impressions that it generates. For YouTube, this reflects the cost per 1,000 estimated views of the advert (CPM). According to data from digital branding enterprise TubeMogul, the eventual payment is in flux on a year-to-year basis, with YouTube's cost-per-thousand views averaging at $7.60 in 2013, down $1.75 from the year before.
A livestreamed world after Twitch
However, despite the popularity of both websites, Youtube and Twitch have not completely monopolized the market. Large-scale developers will still generally use a variety of different streaming services beyond Twitch and YouTube. League of Legends developer Riot Games offers streams of its online tournaments and matches through Azubu, alongside the other streaming sites.
"We want to provide as many viewing channels to players as possible, and rather than each streaming service offering a different demographic of viewers it's more that each offers different forms of functionality / accessibility, so we just do it," Riot Games' representative Chris Tom told us.
Likewise, Valve has previously used the little known service Highwinds during The International 3 tournament for DotA 2.
"I think the justification for using Twitch over YouTube is because of the gamer-focused nature of the company, the in-built ability to do subscriptions to generate income, and small things, like chat channels/moderation bots and the ability to play their own music during streams without it causing copyright problems," Demers continued.
"I've also heard rumblings that YouTube would makes it difficult to show things like sponsor advertisements on stream overlays (something about all ads needing to be shown through YouTube's service), but I have no concrete evidence of that. YouTube also has a larger delay between broadcasting and viewers receiving it, and some streamers rely on 'as soon as possible' stream interaction in order to build community."
Looking to the future, however, the dependence of media conglomerates on automated copyright systems may result in users seeking smaller independent streaming websites, particularly as Content ID systems continue to evolve.
"Algorithmic copyright systems can work better than they currently do," The EFF's Higgins continues. "They can require exact or near-exact matches on both audio and video, for example, and they can be set to flag matches but not take down content without human intervention."