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Twitch bans stream sponsor overlays, and “I’ve never seen creators so pissed”

Enlarge / Visual examples of the kinds of “burned in” sponsorships that Twitch’s new guidelines won’t allow.

A recent update to Twitch’s guidelines restricts many kinds of overlaid ads that streamers can sell and insert on top of their own content. And while Twitch now says it “missed the mark with… policy language” that was “overly broad,” many major streamers are still up in arms over a policy they say could severely affect their ability to make money from content on the popular Amazon-owned streaming platform.

In a June 6 update to its Branded Content Policy guidelines (that Twitch says it will start enforcing on July 1), the platform said that so-called “burned in” videos, display banners, or audio ads are not permitted on the platform. These ad formats are popular with many major streamers, who sell a portion of their screen real estate as part of overall branded stream sponsorship deals.

While basic sponsor logos will still be allowed to be shown on these streams, those sponsorships “are limited to 3% of screen size” under the new guidelines. That could be a problem for some disabled streamers because, as blind streamer Steve Saylor pointed out, that size “isn’t accessible for low vision users as it is too small for overlays and even smaller on mobile.”

Featuring sponsored products “in the background” of streams is still allowed under the new guidelines, prompting some streamers to create cheeky examples of streaming rooms absolutely packed with branded merchandise or featuring large projector screens with huge logos that aren’t technically “burned in” to the stream. Other forms of “branded content,” such as playing a sponsored game, discussing sponsored products, or including links to sponsored sites in chat, are still allowed under the new guidelines.

The kinds of “burned in” ad deals Twitch prohibits are distinct from Twitch’s standard interstitial ads, which the platform inserts into streams at timed intervals. They’re also separate from the kinds of stream subscriptions that viewers can buy for certain platform benefits.

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That’s an important distinction because Twitch generally takes a 50/50 split of all revenue from those “official” platform-level sponsorships. The kind of branding deals that use “burned in” ads, on the other hand, generally pay money directly to the streamer without Twitch getting a cut.

An instant backlash

Popular MMO streamer Asmongold exemplified the strong reaction to the news among many major Twitch streamers. “This is a legitimate situation where streamers should consider boycotting Twitch or moving to other platforms,” he said on Twitter.

“There is no reason for Twitch to do this other than to monetize, monopolize and take advantage of smaller streamers,” Asmongold continued in a streamed message Tuesday. “This is fucking everybody over in a way that does not need to happen. So yes, I will move to another platform non-exclusively… if this goes through. I will actively start pursuing a deal.”

Tips Out, who co-founded the OTK influencer network alongside Asmongold, also threatened to leave Twitch over the move, tweeting that the new policy represents “a direct attack on our business, staff, and all of the hard work we have put into our organization.” In an open letter addressed to Twitch, OTK cited the move as just the latest example of “what feels like years of anti-creator policy” from Twitch.

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Enlarge / Charity streams like Game Done Quick would seemingly not be able to feature the kind of Red Bull banner ad shown here under the new guidelines.

Individual streamers aren’t the only ones set to be affected by this move, either. Events like The Streamer Awards and major esports tournaments often prominently feature sponsor logos or banner ads as a way to earn money without interrupting the broadcast. Charity streams like Games Done Quick can also use prominently branded ad overlays to help pay for the high costs of putting on the event.

Competing platforms have gotten in on the backlash, too, with upstart offering to pay the $25 minimum “maintenance fee” that Twitch has long charged official affiliates and partners who terminate their agreements with Twitch.

“I’ve never seen creators so pissed,” said Jake Lucky, creator of streamer-focused news show The Gamer Update. “Not even kidding, this could be what ends Twitch or really starts turning the tide with Kick and YouTube.”

Push ’em back

In a Tuesday afternoon Twitter thread responding to the backlash, Twitch apologized for a policy update it said was “overly broad” and created “confusion and frustration.” The update intended to simply “prohibit third party ad networks from selling burned in video and display ads on Twitch, which is consistent with other services” (emphasis added).

There was no intent to “limit streamers’ ability to enter into direct relationships with sponsors,” Twitch said, “and we understand that this is an important part of how streamers earn revenue.” The platform concluded with a promise to “rewrite the guidelines to be clearer.”

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Until that rewrite happens, though, the apology has been less than sufficient for many irate creators. “Just admit you’re completely lost as a platform,” popular esports streamer Moistcr1tikal tweeted in response to the apology thread. “This is backpedaling to try and salvage a catastrophic, out of touch, geriatric policy decision.”