TikTok Live’s Subscription Program Wants to Compete With Twitch

5 minute read

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. Access will be restricted to select invited TikTok users as part of a beta launch, then rolled out to all eligible users in coming weeks.

The monetization tool has powered video game streamers on Twitch for years and TikTok has taken note.

Twitch, owned by Amazon.com Inc., launched in 2011 and vaulted to success with video games like League of Legends or Fortnite. 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.

Live video is one of the fastest-growing areas of social media, and competition between the two apps is getting increasingly cutthroat. TikTok has been investing heavily in live streaming content over the past two years and since 2020 it has wooed about a dozen Twitch employees, including some to work on TikTok Live and serve as liaisons between the creators and the company. TikTok lists 173 open positions referencing “Live,” and 35 for “gaming,” according to its website. At the same time, Twitch has faced an exodus of executives amid a strategy shift over how to monetize its more than 1 million daily active streamers.

TikTok is also spending heavily in gaming and is conducting tests to feature games on its platform, Reuters reported. Some of those games may be part of the TikTok Live experience, with streamers playing games together and combining their audiences. 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. Some Twitch streamers have simultaneously livestreamed themselves on TikTok as part of an effort to build their audiences across platforms. However, TikTok Live still lacks important quality-of-life features like robust live moderation and easily identifiable alerts about fan interactions. And while Twitch streamers use elaborate PC setups to boost stream performance, not all TikTok Live content creators have access to PC livestreaming.

Read More: Halsey Is the Latest Artist Complaining About the Music Industry’s Reliance on TikTok

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.

For now, Twitch is ahead on that front. Last month, BBJess said she received an email from TikTok inviting her to be a part of TikTok Live’s beta program for subscriptions. Her most lucrative TikTok stream earned her $200 dollars for three hours of work. On Twitch, she says, she can earn $2,000 to $3,000 in that same period through subscription revenue and donations from fans on the platform. In the past, TikTok has been criticized by creators who feel the platform underpays them.

“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.

That might be about to change. 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 declined to disclose the price of these subscriptions. A spokesperson said after app store fees, creators will split revenue from TikTok 50/50. “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 has also taken steps to retain the loyalty of its top streamers. Twitch Partners — a program for 51,500 top streamers who earn revenue from $5-minimum monthly subscriptions — sign exclusivity agreements with the platform. Some streamers are evading these exclusivity agreements and livestreaming on TikTok anyway.

Twitch has considered removing its exclusivity clauses, Bloomberg has reported, as part of an effort to revamp 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.”

Until TikTok beefs up its features, Twitch will remain the go-to app for livestreaming. BBJess has been using TikTok to push her audience back to Twitch, where she focuses her livestreaming efforts. But she’ll “keep continuing to build my Twitch because that’s my safe zone.”

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