Mixing it up: the problem of platform choice for publishers

No sooner does a platform reach the mainstream than it’s potentially on the way out. For a few years, Twitch was in the ascendancy with its audience growth, direct interaction with live viewers, and diversified revenue generating model convincing a few of the most well-known media companies in the world to experiment with the platform. Two years ago, the features of the livestreaming platform were even a pivotal plot point in the first season of the Netflix original show American Vandal. Since then, however, the platform has been hit by a sense that it is repeating the mistakes of its direct predecessor YouTube, in not fairly rewarding its content creators, and by the departure of one of its most-viewed users, the Fortnite streamer Ninja, for pastures new.

Live streaming platform mixer
Let’s Twitch again, like we did last summer…

That new platform – Mixer – offers much of the same benefits of Twitch with greater out-of-the-box opportunities for audience interaction. Where Twitch makes the ability for a streamer to chat directly with their audience its key selling point for both – and not coincidentally one of its central tenets when it comes to talking to advertisers – Mixer offers far more options for interaction, such as on-the-fly polls, stickers, interactive minigames and more.

Over time it’s likely that Twitch and its livestreaming competitors will adopt one or more of those enhancements on their own channels, just as YouTube made its live chat feature more prominent after Twitch popularised it. Unfortunately for media companies and publishers who, always on the hunt for new audiences, seek to monetise those new platforms, the rapid rise to prominence for each presents as many problems as it does opportunities.

For one thing, platforms like Twitch and Mixer are not designed with publishers in mind. It’s very easy for solo streamers to launch a channel – and it’s even possible for them to launch successful careers – simply by being present on them. But for media companies, who need to answer to shareholders about their activities, it’s harder to justify launching on a new platform which will require money to do properly and, crucially, is potentially taking time away from another platform that might gain traction instead.

For another, each platform has its own syntax, particular ways of interacting with audiences, and it’s very likely that publishers run the risk of appearing inauthentic and alienating audiences unless they get them right. Take, for instance, the popular Twitch streamer PaladinAmber, whose interactions with fans takes the form of bizarre multi-camera skits…

…or those of comedian Brian ‘Limmy’ Limond, whose Twitch channel frequently sees him driving long-haul journeys in a truck simulator or singing along on Twitch’s very own reality show, Twitch Sings.

Becoming a success on any of these platforms is effectively capturing lightning in a bottle. It’s hard to imagine any major publisher managing to capture the particular energy of a platform like Twitch, especially when they have to abide by brand rules. Small wonder then that media giants like the BBC have relegated their use of Twitch to simply allowing fans to comment on episodes of Doctor Who as they stream select episodes.

Moreover, media companies looking to make any actual money from those platforms are at the whims of the platforms’ changing priorities. Unlike Google, for whom referrals to news publishers make up a major part of their strategy, or Facebook, which ostensibly values publishers highly, Twitch, Mixer, TikTok and the like are under no such compunction. The wider audience of users is their focus, and they don’t necessarily make allowances for media companies looking to monetise. Twitch itself, for instance, has been accused of de-prioritising their video-on-demand options, which would undoubtedly be a huge draw for media companies looking to generate any significant revenue.

The temptation for publishers to simply have a presence on those platforms is an understandable and even a laudable one. New audiences are hard to come by, and these platforms have a way of generating their own which (in theory) a publisher can co-opt. But given the potential brand damage or, more likely, apathetic reaction of platform audiences to a major publication setting up shop on a primarily user-generated content landscape, media companies either need to go big and spend significant time and resources learning to do it right, without much in the way of guaranteed return, or simply accept that these platforms are the new gatekeepers to audiences. And neither option is particularly attractive.

Chris Sutcliffe

[email protected]

Martin Tripp Associates is a London-based executive search consultancy. While we are best-known for our work across the media, information, technology, communications and entertainment sectors, we have also worked with some of the world’s biggest brands on challenging senior positions. Feel free to contact us to discuss any of the issues raised in this blog.