YouTube Launches Its Answer to Twitch
by Douglas E. Welch
The biggest new media news this week was the launch of YouTube Gaming. This is YouTube’s attempt to capitalize on one of its largest niche markets, second only to music on YouTube as a whole. YouTube has always been filled with hours of gaming content, but YouTube Gaming seeks to give these gamers (and game watchers) their own home where they can find their favorite gaming content without wading through everything else on the service.
Most industry writers are describing YouTube Gaming as a direct response to Amazon’s acquisition of the current leader in gaming content, TwitchTV. While I am sure that is certainly part of it, I also see YouTube Gaming as a move similar to the Vevo service YouTube launched for its biggest nich, music, a few years ago. It wouldn’t surprise me if there was an internal plan to spin off even more niche areas into their own specific service in the future. It only makes sense to serve your biggest and most active viewers with — dare I say it — portals dedicated to their interests.
In the past, there has been a bit of a symbiotic relationship between Twitch and YouTube in regards to gaming content. Twitch focused on live streamed content, with real-time viewer interaction and YouTube acted as the video-on-demand service where viewers could watch video after the fact. YouTube also has a host of video producers who focused on recorded gameplay and other gaming-related content, even if they would occasionally stream on Twitch, as well. This ad hoc arrangement seemed to work quite well for the companies until Amazon and Google became locked in a bidding war for Twitch. A war that Amazon eventually one. This made it clear to Google that if they wanted to focus more deeply on the gaming niche, they would have to create something themselves.
While YouTube has supported live streaming for a while now, it was never one of its main services for gaming or other content. Now, with YouTube Gaming, though. live streaming is stepping to the fore. Visit Gaming.YouTube.Com and the first thing you see are the streams which are currently live on the service including a live preview of the most popular channel airing at the moment. Scroll down a bit and you will also see pre-recorded content, but live streams are clearly the focus here.
Much like YouTube itself, Gaming allows viewers to subscribe and follow their favorite gaming-related channels. When you first enter Gaming, it will ask you if you wish to import channel subscriptions from your main YouTube account. The channels shown for import, though, are only those that have, somehow, been marked as containing gaming content. These subscribed channels are then highlighted on the main page.
YouTube Gaming is available directly at Gaming.YouTube.com but also via both iOS and Android apps. On one odd note, while both apps can stream content Chromecast devices to put video on your big screen TV, the web site doesn’t seem to include this feature, even though the general YouTube site, does. Note sure why this is.
I will say, as a heavy YouTube viewer of all different sorts of content, I am not sure how much I will use YouTube Gaming. Sure, if your viewing is dedicated to only gaming-related content — the market that YouTube is most trying to to attract — it will serve you well. If, like me, though, you subscribe to channels on gardening, new media, careers and more, you’ll probably end up sticking with YouTube proper. I might occasionally visit to check out what is streaming live, just as I do with Twitch TV, but I require content far more diverse than this niche site provides.
On the technology side, YouTube does offer a few benefits beyond Twitch’s offering. First, and I think most important, their video player is based on HTML5, not Adobe Flash — which is what Twitch still uses. Flash is suffering a slow, and in most cases, much deserved, death as a technology. It is notorious for being a processing and memory hog on user’s computers and the recent heavy use of Flash as a vector for malware infections should be enough to convince all of us to move on to some other technology. In some recent cases, browser developers like Firefox have actively blocked Flash content and years ago, Apple decided not to support flash on any of its iOS devices. This decision was initially thought quite foolhardy on Apple’s part, but now seems quite prescient.
YouTube also supports live streams at 1080p at 60fps at higher bit rates than Twitch, which tops out at 1080p at 30fps. I think gives YouTube a bit of an advantage on streaming quality, although it would be fairly easy for Twitch to step up to those levels should they feel the need. That, of course, points up one of the biggest benefits of YouTube Gaming. It is a direct competitor for Twitch and it is competition that forces companies to improve their services and products. Without such competition, companies can rest on their laurels, even ignoring calls from their users to improve or add new services.
On the other side. Twitch is an extremely mature live streaming environment. They have superior chat moderation systems and a host of enhancements that live streamers can add to their streams. One such software is Twitch Alerts which allows streams to overlay donations, subscriptions and new followers over their streams in real time, further enhancing viewer interaction. YouTube doesn’t yet support any such features, although it seems likely they will soon be added as the site matures. This one area alone, and YouTube’s response to it, could be one of the defining factors in the success of YouTube Gaming. Google has not been known for its responsive customer support in the past — almost to the point of silence — so it will be interesting to see if that improves.
Two additional issues which could greatly effect the success of YouTube Gaming are copyright concerns and exclusivity agreements. YouTube harsh (and sometimes flawed and arbitrary) enforcement of copyright agreements has already caused issues for some YouTube Gaming streamers even in just the few days the service has been live. Where Twitch has taken a laissez-faire approach towards music played during live streams, YouTube will actively shut down streams if its Content ID systems detect copyrighted content in the stream. It remains to be seen how YouTube and Content ID will adapt to live streaming versus recorded content and if some happy middle ground can be found between YouTube and content creators.
YouTube Gaming Is Live - With Content ID
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Secondly, there is some discussion about whether current Twitch partners have contracts which gives Twitch exclusive rights to their content. Some partners are pointing out language from their contracts that seems to indicate that while others are saying their see no such language. It is possible that the exclusivity clause was added or removed at some point in time, but it will take some deeper research, and lawyer fees, to see if Twitch partners can even legally stream on YouTube Gaming. These contractual obligations could prevent many of the bigger names in streaming from using the new YouTube service at all or being forced to make an either/or decision between Twitch and YouTube.
This points up, of course, the dangers of exclusivity clauses in any new media contract and why content creators need to be deeply aware of what they are agreeing to in any contract. Exclusivity benefits the content hosting company far more than it benefits the content creator. Exclusivity locks in content creators and gives them little recourse if a service should be slow to improve or support their service. I always counsel content creators to reject exclusivity agreements whenever they can or, at least, receive significant monetary benefit for exclusivity. Too many give away exclusive rights without understand how it might limit them, their content and their earnings in the future. The introduction of new services and competitors like YouTube Gaming only serves to reinforce that message.
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Will YouTube Gaming be the Twitch killer that some industry writers claim? First, I dislike this constant need to frame everything as an either/or battle to the death. The tech industry is much more subtle than that, with space for many competitors within any given niche. Will there be conflict between these companies? Sure, but that is all for the best. It is through direct, honest, competition that both will improve their offerings and, hopefully, best serve their content creators and viewers. It is much too early to tell what exactly will happen in the coming months and, unlike some, I will make no grand predictions. I prefer to wait and see what happens. I am guessing there will be a lot happening in the next few months as these two services try to figure out exactly where they fit in the live streaming and gaming content ecosystems.
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— This Article was written by — Douglas E. Welch
New Media Interchange
Episode #019: YouTube Gaming + The Dark Side of AutoPlay Video
This is New Media Interchange where we talk about the media world beyond mainstream television and radio, including podcasting, YouTube, live streaming, gaming and more.
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