brands on Twitch

Brands on Twitch: There’s a new group of streamers on Twitch. Dressed in bikinis, cavorting in hot tubs, and actively charging viewers for doing just that – is that what brands want to be?

It took me a while to get used to the idea that people watch other people play games. But they do. You may not believe it, but for an entire segment of society, and especially for children, the live video game streaming service known as Twitch is the center of the universe.

Hundreds of millions of people watch streamers play games live every month, and 15 million watch every day. In the first quarter of 2020, more than 3 billion hours of live content were watched on the platform, and Twitch accounts for more than 72% of all live video content online. Twitch is a giant. You probably already know that. And where eyeballs go, brands follow.

“We need to talk to gamers,” the client brief says. My bank, my law firm, even my accounting firm all do it. Why wouldn’t they? Gamming – as the world finally seems to have realized – has enormous popularity. But with every new goal, channel or marketing opportunity, brand safety must be explored. And Twitch is no exception.

In May 2021, in the midst of a global focus on raising our collective game to address women’s safety (the right to get home safely, the right to be treated with dignity and respect in and out of the workplace, the right not to be objectified by men), a new set of bikini-clad streamers appear on the daytime TV equivalent, frolic in hot tubs like there is no tomorrow, and actively take money from viewers for doing just that.

Yes, that’s right, hot tubs. It’s a simple studio: a pool filled with water, bright colored lights, a standard microphone and a computer. Indoors. These streamers in the hot tub are ready to entertain you with a combination of dance moves, chess moves and games.

What’s waiting for the girls in the hot tub? Cold. Hard. Money.

These are professional self-promoting streamers and experts at working with the mechanisms of getting viewers to donate money for the services they offer. So far, it’s women’s empowerment in the 21st century. So?

There’s nothing wrong with independent entrepreneurial streamers doing bikini shots for money. That is, as long as the content doesn’t become more than a little suggestive. And it’s for your kids’ enjoyment (and money) at 9 a.m., with no watershed, no ratings or age-appropriateness warnings when you enter the stream. Do you want to buy a preroll on this?

It’s worth noting that Twitch momentarily took away ad revenue from one streamer streaming hot tubs, saying her content wasn’t suitable for advertisers. But she fought back and eventually won.

The morning I joined Twitch, Adobe ordered an ad slot as a preroll to a stream for one popular streamer, Caitlin ‘Amouranth’ Siragusa, who could be seen provocatively sticking out of a hot tub in just bikinis, licking her microphone for money. I’m not sure this is what Adobe had in mind when they published their recent document titled “Celebrating Women” during Women’s History Month. I wonder if they even know.

Many in the community oppose these new streams, arguing that this is irrelevant content for a platform they believe belongs in the gaming community, and there are other places online for such content (OnlyFans comes to mind – and Amurant has a significant audience there, too). Many of Twitch’s most hardcore fans agree. But the number of those who actively watch and participate in these broadcasts is not small. So Twitch is caught between a hammer and anvil (ahem). Twitch rarely comments on stats because they don’t need to – but Amouranth has over 3 million subscribers.

Twitch’s latest attempt to deal with the conflict is to bring new segmentation to their platform. Last month, they launched 350 new tags, including long-planned tags around race, gender, sexual orientation and mental health, to help creators showcase their content and help viewers browse and find streams that interest them. At the same time, they created a special new category for pools, hot tubs and beaches so advertisers can choose to place money away from bikini content if they choose to do so.

The big “if.” So why has there been such a fuss?

Just as TikTok was caught and subsequently fined for collecting data on children, I have a feeling Twitch’s path to platform maturity may also come under government scrutiny if it doesn’t at least try to implement a broader system of age restrictions soon.

In the meantime, streamers in hot tubs will continue. “What others consider sexy is not against our rules,” Twitch said in a post. That says one thing and one thing only: the creators definitely have the power, and that’s at least one plus. And we shouldn’t be offended by strong women controlling their channel and making money without violating ethical rules.

But here’s the rub. Imagine if this content were broadcast on the BBC in the middle of the day. Or on ITV. Even on E4 or Dave. It wouldn’t be. And if it were, would you want your brand on display next to it?

Twitch is a phenomenal opportunity. For brands and streamers alike. But as with any fledgling platform with huge advertising budgets being spent on it, brands have to be very careful about the choices they make and the risks they take.

Hot tub or no hot tub, if you’re in the process of ordering ads for Adobe right now, make sure you’re not blinded by the numbers alone. Research the content creators you support. And at least try to understand the dangers lurking in the direct channels you’re buying ads against. Otherwise, you may find yourself trending Twitter tomorrow for all the wrong reasons.

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