Content creators, otherwise known as influencers, are the lifeblood of social networks. Their videos, photos, and live streams are the focal points for digital communities, a place where users from around the world can congregate to connect, share, and engage with one another.
For platforms like YouTube and Twitch, these creators are often cash cows: they rack up more views and engagements than the vast majority of their users. While this often leads to preferential treatment, many creators have taken to social media to complain about how they are treated by their hosts (the irony is sweet.) Some, like Tyler Blevins, otherwise known as Ninja, leave a platforms entirely.
The prolific video game streamer who gained notoriety playing Fortnite for an audience of over 14 million followers on Twitch, is now the face of Microsoft’s Mixer. His move comes amid growing public critiques of Twitch’s policies towards its users.
Mixer’s exclusive signing of Ninja (and other creators) is their power play to compete with the likes of Twitch and YouTube, or in other words, Amazon and Google. However, there are deeper forces at play that give Mixer, and other alternative platforms, a chance to compete.
Simply put: platforms that don’t treat their creators well give rise to competitors who will. Twitch has long been accused of giving preferential treatment to certain streamers, bending its own rules to inconsistently enforce its rules. Over time, this has caused a rift between creators and the platform, culminating in, among other things, Ninja’s exit to Mixer and the #TwitchIsOverParty trend.
After Ninja left for Mixer, Twitch began promoting other streams on his defunct channel. Evidently, they had never done this before, but the results were rigged - an inappropriate pornographic channel was the number one recommendation for a while. Ninja released a video condemning the move, and the ads were promptly tweaked and an apology was issued.
Disgusted and so sorry. pic.twitter.com/gnUY5Kp52E— Ninja (@Ninja) August 11, 2019
As the hysterics subside, the behavior proves the earlier point: platforms that don’t treat their creators well are subject to heightened levels of scrutiny, and are liable to lose their market share. Twitch is certainly not the only platform to come under fire for this type of situation. YouTube, for example, has been fraught with negative press over its handling of copyright strikes, underaged users, in addition to its decision to ban some problematic users (like Alex Jones) but not others.
Like Twitch, YouTube is so deeply entrenched in the video sharing space that it’s become synonymous with online videos. Dethroning it would be difficult, and no true competitor has appeared thanks due in part to the enormous operating and moderating costs. Time will tell if Mixer has the capacity to make a meaningful impact on Twitch’s market share, but nonetheless the opportunities for competitors abound.
The lesson here is clear: as social media platforms mature and look to sustain themselves for the long haul, they need to bear in mind the people who furnish their sites with content. According to a recent study by Pew Research, 10 percent of popular channels (with 250,000 or more subscribers) created 70 percent of content in a one-week period of time. If even a few of them felt slighted enough to leave the platform for greener pastures, it would mean thousands of hours of content would vanish overnight.
The right competitor, with the right amount of capital, could easily and handily whisk away thousands of disenfranchised creators looking for a better outlet that gives them more control over their earnings. It’s no surprise that platforms like Patreon and Buy Me A Coffee have surged in popularity, as they give creators better control over their brand and how it’s monetized. While tips, sales, and premium content subscriptions can help pacify the average hobbyist creator, those who make a living creating social media content understandably look for leverage wherever they can get it.
The rise of influencer marketing has helped tip the scales, putting money and renown directly into creators’ hands. Assuming the trend continues, influencers should gain more and more bargaining power with the platforms they choose to share content on. Is Ninja’s high profile elopement to Mixer a sign of things to come?
Like a free agency frenzy in professional sports, it’s conceivable that we’ll see more influencers being paid for exclusivity rights by major platforms trying to capitalize on their fame and keep influencers' audiences. And as the bidding wars heat up, and social media platforms try to incentivize creators to work with them exclusively, influencers may just have more sway in price-setting for ad revenue splitting.