Opinion: Why No Streamer is Worth $30M to Any Platform

When Disney launched its own dedicated streaming service, it chose to wade into an extremely crowded and competitive market. Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon had a massive head start, and most television channels also had their own streaming services, to say nothing of the specialized platforms for specific genres of entertainment such as anime, horror, etc. To effectively make a splash in such a saturated space, Disney+ had to have a flagship piece of content that would be a draw — something worth downloading an entire new app just to watch. And so, Disney+ launched with The Mandalorian as its flagship piece of original content.

This is much the same strategy used by Microsoft’s video game streaming platform Mixer when it shelled out millions of dollars to pull Tyler “Ninja” Blevins and Michael “Shroud” Grzesiek away from Amazon’s Twitch. Mixer was not a brand new platform, but it was an exceptionally small fish in a pond controlled by some real big ones. Mixer’s own content creators were not enough of a draw to make users install an entirely new app to watch the same games being streamed on Twitch or YouTube, and so the platform tried to push the fans of two of Twitch’s biggest streamers to follow these creators to Mixer.

With Mixer now closing its doors, it is clear that this strategy was not enough to create lasting change in streaming consumers. According to StreamElements, Mixer saw just 0.2% growth from March to April of this year, at a time when global COVID-19 lockdowns were pushing other platforms to growth figures in the triple digits. Blevins and Grzesiek could not retain audiences remotely close to their numbers on Twitch, and were not able to push users (or streamers) to make the switch to Mixer.

The downfall of Mixer should have been an important learning point for other platforms about the value of individual streamers. However, with Facebook Gaming reportedly trying to pay double for Blevins and Grzesiek, and Blevins now apparently engaged in a three-way bidding war with Twitch, YouTube, and Facebook, it appears that these companies are still over-valuing one popular streamer as a draw for their platform.

This suggests a fundamental misunderstanding, particularly on the part of Facebook, of how streaming audiences engage with platforms. Outside of watching a specific esports competition, I have never opened Twitch at a scheduled time to watch one particular streamer. That is simply not how most digitally native users engage with content. You choose the platform you want to watch, and then scroll through the options to make an impulse decision about what to watch.

This extends beyond video game streaming as well. The term is “Netflix and chill,” and not “title of a specific show I want to watch…and chill,” because most people boot up Netflix with no specific plan. You pull up Netflix, and then you scroll for 30 minutes deciding what to watch. Twitch users are no different. When you decide you want to watch some video game streaming, you pull up Twitch, and then select a stream to watch based on who is live among your follow list, or someone interesting that has been featured on the home page.

Mixer understood the draw of The Manadlorian for Disney+, but missed all the other aspects of the platform’s launch that made it sustainable. In addition to its Baby Yoda meme delivery service, Disney+ also launched with multiple, more niche originals. It had the entire backlog of The Simpsons, nearly every Marvel movie, every Disney Channel Original, and all the cartoons millennials watched as kids. The Mandalorian may have been what initially pushed users to download the app, but everyone finished those eight episodes before their free trial expired. It was all the other content that made people subscribe. Mixer got headlines and speculative viewers from paying Blevins, but it had nothing else to encourage those users to stick around.

Again, it’s important to understand the thought process of that consumer. They choose the platform, and then the creator, not the other way around. If I want to watch Twitch, I’m going to watch whoever is live. If Ninja no longer shows up in my list of options, I’m not going to close Twitch and open a different app, or a new tab on my computer just for him. The biggest streamers just aren’t able to create that level of loyalty and engagement from the majority of their viewers.

If Mixer had really wanted to influence decision-making in new users, it could have taken that $30M and spread it across hundreds of smaller Twitch streamers. Data from social media marketing platform Phlanx suggests that small streamers, or “micro-influencers,” create substantially higher engagement rates among their audiences than the most popular names. Their audiences would be more likely to change behavior to support a specific creator. As an added bonus, the platform would have hundreds of new streamers pumping out content, each with their own established base. This would make opening Mixer and then choosing what to watch a more attractive option.

The term “influencer” exists for a reason, and the biggest streamers certainly have the ability to influence their audience. Twitch retaining big names is not a waste of money, nor is Facebook or YouTube trying to pull creators away. You need a big name to get people in the door. The Mandalorian influenced a lot of initial downloads, but putting your entire budget into a single show does not build a sustainable platform. Heck, some people don’t even like Star Wars.

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