TikTok takes a page – or many – from Twitch’s playbook.
The hugely 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, giving fans perks to access the content of their favorite creators for a monthly fee. Access will be limited to select invited TikTok users as part of a beta launch, rolling out to all eligible users in the coming weeks.
The monetization tool has been supporting video game streamers on Twitch for years, and TikTok has taken notice.
Twitch, owned by Amazon.com Inc., was launched in 2011 and became a success with video games such as League of Legends or Fortnite. Since then it has become the go-to choice for all types of live streaming and its most popular content category is now Just Chatting, where streamers talk to hundreds or thousands of fans who respond via text chat. This type of content finds a new home on TikTok, that of China’s ByteDance Ltd. heard.
Live video is one of the fastest growing areas of social media and the competition between the two apps is becoming increasingly fierce. TikTok has invested heavily in live-streamed content over the past two years and has hired about a dozen Twitch employees since 2020, including some to work on TikTok Live and act as a liaison between the developers and the company. TikTok lists 173 job openings related to “live” and 35 to “gaming,” according to its website. At the same time, Twitch faced an exodus of executives as it shifted strategy on how to monetize its more than 1 million daily active streamers.
TikTok is also spending heavily on games and conducting tests to offer games on its platform, Reuters reported. Some of these games can be part of the TikTok Live experience, where streamers play games together and bring their audience together. However, bringing games to the platform is not the same as promoting a culture and industry of games live streamers like Twitch has done.
Twitch declined to comment on TikTok’s new subscription service.
It’s hard for developers to ignore the appeal of TikTok’s 1 billion monthly active users, and streaming on the platform is an easy way to grow their following. Some Twitch streamers have been live streaming themselves on TikTok simultaneously to build their audience across platforms. However, TikTok Live still lacks key quality of life features like robust live moderation and easily recognizable 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 live streaming.
Continue reading: Halsey is the latest artist to complain about the music industry’s trust in TikTok
BBJess, who doesn’t publicly share her full name, has been posting dances and memes on TikTok since 2019. Recently, she has started streaming more on TikTok Live along with her peers from the Twitch Just Chatting category.
“Gaming content is great for attracting people, but it takes interactive live streams to get people to spend,” she said.
Right now, Twitch has the edge on that front. Last month, BBJess said she received an email from TikTok inviting her to join the TikTok Live beta program for subscriptions. Her most lucrative TikTok stream earned her $200 for three hours of work. On Twitch, she says she can make $2,000 to $3,000 in the same period from subscription earnings and donations from fans on the platform. In the past, TikTok has been criticized by developers who felt the platform underpaid them.
“Once TikTok figures out how to directly help more of its 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 the United Talent Agency.
That could change. In a live subscription playbook provided to Bloomberg, TikTok pitches the program as “a new monetization opportunity for you to generate predictable monthly revenue through the ongoing support of your engaged followers.” Features include subscriber badges, custom emotes, subscribers-only chats — features that are all currently available on Twitch.
TikTok declined to disclose the price of those subscriptions. A spokesman said after the app store fees, the developers would split TikTok’s earnings 50/50. “As the feature is still an early pilot program, we are now focused on building the product and hearing feedback from some of our top developers,” 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 generate at least $5 in revenue from monthly subscriptions — signs exclusivity agreements with the platform. Some streamers bypass these exclusivity agreements and still stream on TikTok.
Twitch has considered removing its exclusivity clauses, Bloomberg reported, as part of an effort to overhaul creator compensation structures. For now, enforcement efforts are eased, a current staffer said.
“Removing the exclusivity clause would allow developers to share the same content they’re already streaming on a platform with TikTok’s broader, non-game-specific audience,” UTA’s Lee said. “This would allow Twitch-endemic streamers to build communities on TikTok without having to learn new skills like dancing or heavy editing of their videos.”
Until TikTok improves its features, Twitch remains the top choice for live streaming. BBJess uses TikTok to push her audience back to Twitch, where she focuses her livestreaming efforts. But she will “continue to expand my twitch because that is my safe zone”.
More must-read stories from TIME