TikTok Live Wants to Compete With Twitch

TikTok is taking a page — or many — from Twitch’s playbook.

The wildly popular live video app, made famous with lip-synching music covers and dance moves, is launching a new subscription option for its TikTok Live service on Thursday, granting fans perks in exchange for a monthly fee to access their favorite creators’ content. In a beta launch phase, only selected TikTok users will have access to the content. This information will then be made public to all users who are eligible in the next weeks.

TikTok recognizes the power of this monetization tool, which has powered Twitch video streamers for years.

Twitch was founded in 2011 by Inc. It is now owned and operated by Inc. It has since become the go-to app for all sorts of live streaming and its most popular content category now is “Just Chatting,” where streamers talk with hundreds or thousands of fans, who respond through a text chat. That kind of content is finding a new home on TikTok, which is owned by China’s ByteDance Ltd.

One of the most popular areas in social media is live streaming. The competition is fierce between these two platforms. TikTok has invested heavily in live streaming video content for the past two-years. Since 2020, it has attracted about 12 Twitch employees to join its ranks. These include some who will be working on TikTok Live. They also serve as liaisons between TikTok and creators. TikTok lists 173 open positions referencing “Live,” and 35 for “gaming,” according to its website. Twitch is also experiencing a loss of executive leadership as it ponders how to make money from its 1,000,000 daily streamers.

Reuters reported that TikTok has also been spending heavily in gaming. It is currently testing features for games to be featured on the platform. TikTok Live may feature some of these games, where streamers play together in games and combine their audience. However, featuring games on the platform isn’t the same as fostering a culture and industry of game livestreamers as Twitch has done.

Twitch declined to comment on TikTok’s new subscription service.

It’s hard for creators to ignore the pull of TikTok’s 1 billion monthly active users, and streaming on the platform is a low-effort way to increase their fan base. As part of their efforts to grow their audience across all platforms, some Twitch streamers livestream on TikTok simultaneously. TikTok Live is still lacking important features, such as live moderation that’s robust and alerts for fan interaction. Twitch streamers can use sophisticated PC settings to improve stream performance. But not all TikTokLive content creators have PC access for livestreaming.

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BBJess, who doesn’t share her full name publicly, had been posting dances and memes on TikTok since 2019. Lately, she has started streaming more on TikTok Live along with her peers from Twitch’s “Just Chatting” category.

“Gaming content is great to bring people in, but it’ll take interactive livestreamers to keep people spending money,” she said.

Twitch seems to be ahead of the pack on this front for now. Last month, BBJess said she received an email from TikTok inviting her to be a part of TikTok Live’s beta program for subscriptions. She earned $200 for her TikTok streams that were most successful, and this was after only three hours of hard work. She claims that she can make as much as $2,000-$3,000 per month on Twitch through donations and subscriptions. Creators have criticized TikTok in the past for not paying them enough.

“Once TikTok figures out how to directly help more of their creators monetize their content, you will definitely see creators investing additional time on the platform and maintaining a consistent presence there,” said Mike Lee, an Esports agent at United Talent Agency.

This could be changing. In a Live Subscription playbook shared with Bloomberg, TikTok pitches the program as “a new monetization opportunity for you to generate predictable income on a monthly basis through always-on support from your engaged followers.” Features will include subscriber badges, custom emotes, subscriber-only chats — features all currently available on Twitch.

TikTok did not disclose the cost of these subscriptions. TikTok spokespersons stated that creators would split the 50/50 revenue earned from TikTok after they pay app store fees. “As the feature is still an early pilot program, right now we’re focused on building the product and hearing feedback from some of our top creators,” the spokesperson said.

Twitch also takes steps to keep its streamers loyal. Twitch Partners — a program for 51,500 top streamers who earn revenue from $5-minimum monthly subscriptions — sign exclusivity agreements with the platform. These exclusive agreements are not being followed by all streamers. Some livestreamers opt to skip the exclusivity agreement and continue streaming on TikTok.

Bloomberg reports that Twitch may remove its exclusivity clauses in an attempt to improve creator pay structures. For now, it’s eased enforcement efforts, a current employee said.

“The removal of the exclusivity clause would enable creators to share the same content that they’re already streaming on one platform to TikTok’s broader, non-gaming-specific audience,” said UTA’s Lee. “This would allow Twitch-endemic streamers to build communities on TikTok without having to adopt new skills like dancing or heavily editing their videos.”

Twitch will continue to be the best app for livestreaming, even if TikTok improves its features. BBJess uses TikTok for her audiences to return to Twitch where she focuses all her livestreaming efforts. But she’ll “keep continuing to build my Twitch because that’s my safe zone.”

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