The Amazon-owned online platform has 2.2m monthly broadcasters, transmitting content including music 24/7 to their followers online. But despite developing close links with the industry, none of the money made by Twitch is going to music creators or rights’ owners, explains Ben Gilbert.
Tyler Blevins plays video games for at least 12 hours a day. There’s nothing tremendously unusual about that, given he’s among the hordes of people seemingly hooked on 2018’s global hit Fortnite. However, what is unusual about Blevins, better known worldwide as Ninja, is that an audience of approximately 10m watch him play video games online via Twitch, allowing the 27-year-old to rake in a salary of more than $500,000 per month in the process. These are big numbers and financial sums that also pose a serious challenge and untapped opportunity for the music business.
What is Twitch?
Twitch started out as Justin.tv in 2011, broadcasting a wide range of user-generated content and gathering considerable momentum around the livestreaming of video games. The platform was bought and renamed by Amazon in 2014 for $970m and now has 2.2m monthly broadcasters and 15m daily active users. Recently described by the New York Times as a “kaleidoscopic television network”, Blevins is the platform’s leading light and has built close connections both with music and numerous key artists.
Drake joined him online recently, playing Fortnite and breaking Twitch viewing records. That was swiftly followed by an exclusive invitation to head up the first ever Lollapalooza Gaming Lounge at the event in Chicago, seemingly further tightening the relationship between Twitch and the music industry. But there is a fundamental flaw in this relationship: none of the music being aired on Twitch is licensed and despite the spectacular profits of Ninja and co, none of the money made by Twitch is going to the music creators or rights’ owners.
“None of the music being aired on Twitch is licensed and despite the spectacular profits of Ninja and co, none of the money made by Twitch is going to the music creators or rights’ owners.”
That’s despite the fact that Ninja, who is certainly the platform’s most famous figure, is far from alone when it comes to building huge audiences and healthy incomes from their gaming. For example, Roberto Garcia, another star broadcaster, known online as Towelliee, sold approximately $3m dollars’ worth of sponsors products through links on his Twitch channel in 2016, a figure which sounds even more astounding when cast in another light. “This year, Towelliee’s viewers have watched 594 years of his content,” explained his manager Omeed Dariani.
What does Twitch mean for the music industry?
In a recent investigation for Forbes, US music industry attorney Erin M. Jacobson outlined how Twitch has so far avoided/evaded compensation for countless alleged breaches of entertainment law. As she explained, platforms featuring user-generated audiovisual content require valid licenses for the compositions from the relevant performance rights organizations. There is currently no evidence that Twitch has begun the process of securing these, despite that fact that music consistently soundtracks many eGaming channels.
“Platforms featuring user-generated audiovisual content require valid licenses for the compositions from the relevant performance rights organizations. There is currently no evidence that Twitch has begun the process of securing these.”
“All of the money earned by Twitch and its partner/affiliate broadcasters for subscriptions, bits, and (Amazon) Prime membership is retained entirely by Twitch and its partners/affiliates, and money earned from donations and Media Share song requests is kept entirely by the broadcasters. None of these funds are allocated to music creators and rights’ owners whose music is being used in these broadcasts,” said Jacobson.
How has the music industry responded?
The music industry is famously slow at reacting to the aforementioned challenges and opportunities, particularly those presented since the formation of the digital era. However, Interscope issued DMCA takedown notices in June to 10 users for reportedly playing a leaked version of a new song by rapper Juice Wrld. “This organization has asserted that it owns this content and that you streamed that content on Twitch without permission to do so,” they were told. “As a result we have cleared the offending archives, highlights, and episodes from your account and given you a 24-hour restriction from broadcasting.” Although there are reports these notices were distributed “by accident”, it’s clear that a greater degree of enforcement is required when copyright has been breached.
Equally, there remains a certain level of confusion among broadcasters, music creators and rights’ owners about the power and potential of Twitch. In recent months, Ninja is said to have turned off music content, allowing him to repost videos to YouTube and safeguard his ad revenue. “I’ve already reached out about getting rights to music. It doesn’t matter who you are. You could be the most popular person in the world. You can still get screwed over for playing music that doesn’t belong to you…It’s such a nightmare that it’s just not worth it, 90% of the time,” he commented.
“Take a stand” urges industry lawyer
In an attempt to circumvent the issue, users have started to build and distribute guides that allow streamers to identify music that is free from copyright restrictions. Meanwhile, an intransigent situation is also said to have been compounded both by ignorance within certain quarters of the music business, alongside a more pragmatic take on the promotional opportunities the platform clearly offers. Twitch are yet to speak about the issue or the potential impact on their relationship with the music business.
“It’s time the culture of all creators shifts to one of respecting one’s own work enough to get paid for it and respecting the work of others enough to get the proper permissions and pay the proper compensation. It’s time that everyone gets serious about valuing music”
– Attorney Erin M. Jacobson
Calling for immediate action, Jacobson said the industry needed to “take a stand” and accept the challenge provided by Twitch. “It’s time creators stopped feeling entitled to steal from and deprive each other of the fruits of their labor. It’s time people realized that using music without permission or payment not only cheats the creator or performer, but also impacts everyone that works for them or with them. It’s time the culture of all creators shifts to one of respecting one’s own work enough to get paid for it and respecting the work of others enough to get the proper permissions and pay the proper compensation. It’s time that everyone gets serious about valuing music”, she said.