This is quite possibly the most important piece of research that I’ve ever put together for streamers, and it might be my most controversial, but it’s something that I’m willing to say and stick to because I believe every streamer needs to see it.
If you’re interested in maximizing growth and financial potential, it’s time to start running ads on your channel. It’s time to stop leaving hundreds, even thousands, of dollars on the table. By running ads, take what is yours and get the revenue you, as a streamer, deserve.
Why is this controversial? Why have we tricked ourselves into thinking that by running ads we are hurting our channels, we are selling out to Amazon, and we are going against the very grain of content creation? The answer is very simple: nobody likes ads. I don’t like watching ads, so why would I run them? And I’ve lived this way on the platform for the last 10 years. But something has changed. Something clicked recently and made me realize that my mindset, my longevity on the platform, and just my overall revenue model all improved when I got over the mental hurdle that “Ads = Bad” for my stream. So follow me on this journey and hopefully I can convince you as to why Twitch pushing creators to run midroll ads is one of the best things they have ever done: it increases your odds of turning streaming into an actual career that you can do for a long time.
I’ve streamed on this platform for 10 years. Over the course of those 10 years I have run almost no ads. I’ve long believed that ads suck, that ads do nothing but push my audience away.If I were to run ads, I would be systematically killing my channel and my ability to grow on the platform would cease to exist. Up until a month ago, I had convinced myself that I would never truly run ads because it would only hurt my stream.
For 10 years on this platform, I was wrong.
I’m writing this to convince you to not make the very same mistake that I made for 10 years. This is not coming from someone who likes ads. I don’t think there is a single person out there who would love to have content broken up with ads.
So why am I changing? What shifted this mindset when the entire rest of Twitch is on fire because Amazon/Twitch wants us to run ads? Well, like many things that I’ve done over the past 10 years, I slowed down, dove into the actual numbers of what was happening on other streams, my own stream, and friends’ streams and made the decision to do research and not just react. The things that I found were incredible.
So before we dive deep into this topic, let’s lay a few groundwork points about this article that are going to be extremely important for building your understanding of why you as a streamer need to start running ads to maximize your profit and growth.
- Pre-rolls are awful in many many ways for content creators on Twitch.
- By allowing pre-rolls to stay on, you are leaving money + potential new viewers on the table.
- Relying solely on subs as your revenue source needs to be a thing of the past, because it is extremely unhealthy for your mental and physical well being.
- By incorporating ads into your stream with the viewer in mind, you’re setting yourself up for a happier streaming experience for both streamer and viewer
Pre-rolls are Awful
Everything in this entire article is going to come back to pre-roll ads on Twitch.
A pre-roll is an ad that plays the moment you join a stream. Typically it’s 30 seconds, but sometimes it can be a lot worse. It’s literally one of the biggest factors that is hurting your ability to bring in new viewers. But before we can tackle why this matters, we must first establish an extremely important point: Twitch is vastly improving its discovery on the website; the idea that you can’t grow on the website simply is not true. I’m not here to state that the discovery on the website is where it should be, but the gears are working and just like anything with an algorithm, you’re going to need to put some work in. To prove this point, I’ll use my stream as an example.
From April through October, I spent the vast majority of my time streaming Pokemon Fire Red/Leaf Green. This is not a new release game, this is a game that came out in 2004. During this stretch of time I saw my viewership average balloon from 2800 when I first started, to 4600 in a matter of a few months. I even reached a point of hitting close to 11,000 viewers. From a discovery standpoint, a game made almost 20 years ago should not be able to create that amount of growth. So what happened? And where were these viewers coming from?
This is where Twitch Recommendations come into play.
I’m going to break down some of this data in chunks so you can see how incredibly the algorithm works when you play by its rules.
I began doing runs of a challenge that I created called Kaizo IronMON on April 11. It was a continuation of a challenge I had attempted in 2021. But this round of attempts was DIFFERENT. For the purpose of what I’m trying to discuss today I’m going to focus on 3 Key Stats:
- Home Recommendations - Streams recommended to viewers when they land on Twitch.tv’s Home Page.
- Twitch Recommendations - Streams recommended to viewers using the left side panel.
- Browse Page - When a streamer finds your stream by using the “Browse” function on Twitch.
You can find all of these stat numbers in your Channel Analytics under “Where did My Views Come From?” Just click the “View Details Button.”
We will compare the three months where my content was focused with the month of. March, where my content was all over the place. In March I streamed 13 different games for various amounts of time. I was effectively a variety streamer that month. In April, I streamed MOSTLY IronMON, and in May and June, ONLY ironMON.
By sticking to one form of content, Twitch began to recommend me MORE.
So what does all of this have to do with ads? It all comes back to pre-rolls.
We’ve established above that Twitch was recommending my stream to a lot of people, and we’ve also established I saw phenomenal growth during this period, all the while pre-rolls were enabled, so what’s the issue? Well that’s the problem: while my growth was amazing on the surface, let’s take a closer look at how many of these views I actually had a chance to make an impression on.
Recommends and Browse Combined Stats
April saw 47,000 views + 2800 New Follows.
May saw 90,000 views + 4100 New Follows
June saw 72,000 Views + 3300 New Follows
These numbers look great if you assume all of those views actually got to my content, but that’s the problem – many viewers simply never even got that far. THIS VIDEO from a couple of years ago suggests that pre-rolls can cause up to 30% of new viewers to leave your stream before they even get through the ad itself.
To put that in perspective, just in these 3 months alone, I lost out on 62,000 new people seeing my content. That’s 62,000 NEW impressions I could have made.
So now that we’ve established that pre-rolls are awful for growth and are hurting you in that department, how do you turn them off? Surely Twitch knows the same stats about how damaging pre-rolls can be to making new impressions! And they do! The issue is, though, that streamers by and large don’t run ads. If pre-rolls were turned off with no promise from the streamer to run ads, Twitch would take HUGE LOSSES. Thankfully, they did give streamers a way to turn them off, by running mid-rolls. Mid-rolls are just ads that play in the middle of the stream.
By running a certain 3 mins of ads per hour, you can completely disable pre-roll ads, and you should do everything you can to make this happen.
Most streamers can only turn pre-rolls off in 30 min chunks. This means that every 30 mins, if you can run 90 seconds of ads, pre-rolls will be turned off for 30 mins. So effectively, you’d need to run two sets of 90 second mid-roll ads per hour to make sure pre-rolls are turned off for any new viewer.
Knowing how to disable pre-rolls and enable mid-rolls is all well and good, but let’s get to the most important part: let’s talk about how pre-rolls are hurting you financially.
As I have stated previously, I had not really run mid-roll ads on my stream in the last 10 years. There were stretches where I tried it, but quickly stopped because it just felt like something that was anti-growth, not because I had data to help me make my decision. While I wasn’t running mid-roll ads, I was still generating revenue from pre-roll ads and making some decent income. But I wasn’t aware that I was still leaving HUGE amounts of income on the table.
I will again use myself as an example. While I won’t state specific $$$ amounts due to privacy, I’ll compare Ad Revenue during three time periods. I’ve only recently started running ads in October, so keep in mind this IS a small sample size, but it should be able to paint a good picture.
I compared my first 10 days of October with my best stretch in May during IronMON, which was probably my best month streaming EVER, as well as a stretch in December 2021 with similar stats.
- I streamed the least amount of time in October out of these 3 months
- I averaged almost Double the viewership of October in May
- Relatively speaking, Dec 21/Oct were same viewership
So what was the result?
Let’s first take October compared to May in terms of ad revenue. All things point to May being insane for me, and I did pretty alright, all things considered, with only pre-rolls enabled. But even with all of these factors I made 21% MORE income from ads in October by running mid-rolls, despite having TWICE the viewership in May.That’s an astounding number!
Now, what if we compared that to something that had roughly the same amount of viewership + hours streamed – how much of an increase is it then? Well, it was insane. By running 2 mins and 21 seconds of midrolls, I made THREE TIMES the amount of ad revenue in December 2021. Keep in mind, too, that December is one of the best months for ads on Twitch due to the holidays.
These numbers are not even factoring in Twitch’s recent Ad Incentive Program. Twitch recently rolled out a program that gave creators a 55% split on all revenue share from ads that Twitch brought in. You might be thinking to yourself that’s really not that much, but 55% is a competitive number. To put things in perspective, YouTube recently launched monetization for Shorts at 45% to the creator. The Twitch Ad Incentive program basically gives you an offer you can opt into that is locked in for that month only. So if the next month is different, you simply do not have to take the incentive. The more consistency you have in running ads, the more the Incentive Program is going to offer you. So if you saw those offers, and they were small, start getting into the habit of running some ads. You’ll see that number jump up very quickly. The important takeaway here is that Twitch is giving creators guaranteed numbers to run X amount of ads, and get paid X amount of dollars. This is a huge change and part of the reason why you’re seeing so many creators start to push out more ads.
On the other hand, we’ve also been seeing streamers get set up with some unreasonable number of hours to stream. This is the issue when you try to automate everything like Twitch is doing. The good news, though, is that you do NOT have to stream those full hours. You’re going to get a percentage based on these numbers for the hours you actually stream. So If you are offered 190 Hours, and you only stream 150, the ad revenue should be prorated based on that number.
The bottom line is this is an extremely NEW system, and my theory is that as things improve and as Twitch sees the data we’ll get better accurate numbers. The main thing to remember is, YOU DO NOT NEED TO TAKE THE OFFERS, in fact I’d suggest not taking most unless the numbers are insanely in your favor. Twitch is working the system, you need to work it back.
But here’s the problem, many creators are entertainers, they aren’t advertisers. And a lot of ads are being played at times that aren’t optimal for the viewer. This is causing a ton of burn out from viewers who simply want to watch content and not be interrupted. And I’ll address that problem soon, but it’s a problem that has a very easy solution.
I love subs. I think if you ask most streamers on Twitch how they generate their budget for their livelihoods, most of them would say subs. Subs are the currency of Twitch and you can look no further than your following list to see how many people are running “Uncapped Subathons.” But here’s the issue: your sub count fluctuates each month, especially if you don’t stream due to traveling or taking a vacation. So many streamers are afraid of taking time off because that means they are losing subs.
On top of that, it’s also putting an extremely huge financial burden on your community to consistently generate revenue for you.
According to recent reports, only .0015% of Twitch streamers make a Median Household living on the platform. This is a staggering number and shows you how the current model that many of us have been on is simply not sustainable. More subs isn’t going to solve this problem, and although a better split for the creator would go a long way to help, it’s still not going to close the gap as much as we think.
I can’t tell you how many of my friends consistently cite burnout and anxiety as huge staples of what it’s like being a full-time streamer. A lot of this is because we put so much focus on subs. But there is only so much actual income to be split up among all the streamers on Twitch. There are only so many prime subs that exist, and viewers only have so much disposable income to give to streamers. As I stated, “Uncapped Subathons” are quickly becoming more and more common, but these are short-term solutions to an incredibly long-term problem. We’re simply kicking the can down the road. Furthermore, these types of marathons exponentially increase the amount of burnout, as streamers are getting huge payouts in the month of the Subathon, but then seeing huge drop offs and no actual growth.
And here’s the bottom line. When you’re feeling tired, anxious, exhausted, and burnt out, you’re not going to be having fun streaming. And when you’re not having fun streaming, your growth will be stunted. There are thousands of streams on Twitch and it’s so easy for a viewer to leave and go elsewhere because there is no incentive for them to stay for a streamer in a bad mood. If you’re not having fun, then they aren’t having fun.
There is nothing wrong with putting an emphasis on subs, but Subs are only part of the equation of a healthy revenue source. This is where ads come in. Ads allow you to place less focus on hitting certain numbers of subs, and instead allow you to focus on your content. Ads alleviate the pressure on viewers to spend dollars on your channel. Ads allow you to take MORE BREAKS during the stream and keep your mindset in check. When I started running my 3 min breaks per hour, I found myself way more refreshed from breaks, my audience had time to take breaks and I was doing shorter main game streams. A lot of times during October, after the main content stream, I’d do a bonus stream of a game that I knew wouldn’t generate my normal viewership, but the pressure wasn’t there to perform because I was hitting great numbers doing 6-8 hours of streams.
Now I know what you’re thinking: “But Pie, in order to earn money, you need to stream MORE to run ads.” But here’s the thing, if I’m making 20% more income from running ads than I was before, that means that’s less emphasis I have to put on getting subs. That means that's less emphasis I need to put on being live to get that money. Running ads in theory adds no extra amount of time streaming, as I’m simply running them while I put on my normal content. And if I’m more satisfied with my income, I’m going to feel less pressure to go live to try and earn more subs/bits/donations.
Don’t believe me? Let’s check in with some other streamers.
“For the last decade on Twitch the "meta" for how you paid the bills was relying on others for their generosity to make your sub number go as high as it could. With the Ad Incentive program, I feel a lot more freedom as an entertainer to not stress about the financial side of things, and not feel like if people don't sub, I can't provide for my loved ones.”
- Streamer “Spikevegeta” on Ad Incentive Programs Positive Effects
Spikevegeta is someone who consistently averages about 600-700 viewers a stream. He’s been running ads on Twitch on the platform since they started doing the Ad Incentive program, and he’s the happiest he’s ever been from a mental health standpoint. He’s able to focus on his content, he’s able to not stress about hitting some random sub goal, and it’s extremely obvious watching his content that he’s happier.
The bottom line is if you start to incorporate ad revenue into your list of options, your finances will improve, your mindset will be much better, and most importantly, you’re going to be having MORE FUN streaming because you’re less stressed about the numbers.
At the end of the day, a lot of the benefits we’ve gone over today are great for the streamer. But all of these things feel like they come at the expense of the viewer. And on first glance I’d agree with you. If you compare the viewer experience of “No ads vs ads,” it’s pretty clear that almost all of us would rather watch our favorite content creators without being interrupted. And while I hope that someday there will be a better model for streamers that includes no ads, in the year 2022, that isn’t the case.
As I stated earlier, one of the byproducts of the Ad Incentive program was streamers running more ads but not really having a plan on WHEN to run them. We need to find out how we can get our max amount from ads while also making sure the viewer doesn’t get burnt out.
So what do people actually prefer? I can’t speak for every person on this platform, but the viewers within my circle clearly had a preference.
A big part of why the viewer experience is so awful when it comes to ads is because viewers do not want to miss the action on Twitch. No one wants a hype moment that happens on a stream to be missed because they had to watch the same ad for the 100th time. I’m a firm believer that if streamers are taking more ownership of WHEN the ads play, the viewers themselves will be happier and more willing to stay around. If every streamer ran ads only during stretch breaks, or slow portions of content, I think a lot of the anger around running mid-rolls would be solved. We as streamers can’t currently get rid of ads completely, so we have to work a little bit harder to make the experience as smooth as possible.
Okay Pie, but what about the numbers? It's great that you have a belief that ads aren’t going to harm my channel, but can you show me some data?
I wanted to know the answer to this question as well, because two months ago, I was quite convinced that ads were the enemy of my stream. But is this actually true? Do streamers who run mid-roll ads lose viewers over time?
To find the answer I started with some of the biggest content creators on Twitch and the findings basically all said the same thing: viewers are not leaving streams who run mid-rolls, and in most cases these channels are growing despite mid-roll ads.
I focused on two streamers: Hasanabi and XqC. Both of these creators took Twitch Contracts that required them to run some amount of ads per hour while also streaming X amount of hours.
Let’s first take this clip from Hasan where he states, very transparently, that he’s on a contract, which requires him to run X amount of mid-roll ads.
This was TWO years ago in September 2020. You can also see his sub count in the top right corner. So what were his viewership numbers then, and what are they now?
(All Stats in this section are pulled from Twitchtracker, an extremely helpful site that I would VERY MUCH recommend to all streamers looking to better understand their own numbers)
Now I am not saying that by running ads, you can magically grow your channel. Your content still needs to be good, you still need to network and get yourself out there. There’s a lot of factors at play here. What I am saying is that running mid-roll ads definitely did not slow him down. Just keep in mind what I mentioned earlier with regards to viewer bounce rates on pre-rolls. As Hasan networked and grew over 2021 and 2022, there were higher numbers of new viewers coming in and engaging in his content from recommendations that weren’t getting bounced by pre-roll ads.
Here’s another fun tidbit. You can see in the clip that in September of 2020, Hasan was close to 18K Subs. How did those ads impact his sub count?
Well as of September 2022, he’s up to somewhere in the ballpark of 50K subs on Twitch. (Twitchtracker gets it pretty close but isn’t 100% accurate)
So let’s take a look at Majinphil, a close friend of mine who has been running ads on his channel since 2020 as well.
In May of 2020, MajinPhil began to run 2 mins of ads per hour on his channel. His average viewership in May for his main game at the time, Majora’s Mask, was just under 700 viewers. Fast forward to September of 2022, his games have changed, but his ad strategy has not. He now typically averages between 1300 to1400 viewers. Again, this growth isn’t just because Phil was running ads, but he was not being hindered by them.
And in my own experiment, I started doing more ironMON in October while committing to running ads.
These are my numbers SINCE RUNNING ADS.
So What Now?
After all the research, after all the digging and looking at my own stats, the answer for ME is very clear. I’m going to start running ads and do my best to incorporate them in a way that is the least disruptive for my audience. There will be growing pains, since most of Twitch has virtually operated on a no mid-roll existence. Simply expecting everyone to adopt these new changes isn’t realistic.
If you’ve read this article and you’re thinking, “I need to make this change NOW!” pump the brakes a bit. The next step is to talk to YOUR audience, because communication with your audience is so important. When I made this realization, the first thing I did was just talk about it with my community. I explained to them all of these points and made it clear, this was for the longevity of my stream. I LOVE streaming, and every day that I get to spend on this platform is a huge blessing. I want to continue to make this my career, not just a moment in my life, and my audience knew that. While there were a lot of questions, and a few people who were less than pleased, the majority of them understood that this would make the streams better because I would be less stressed and more focused on what I wanted to stream.
When you talk to your community about it, when you actually sit down and have a real conversation with them, my guess is that your community will feel the same way. Use this article as a source, share with them the numbers, and be transparent. When you’re transparent with your audience, you build trust and people will understand. They won’t hate you or accuse you of being a sell out. They’ll have your back. You have no idea how many people who are financially unable to support streamers through traditional subbing but would love to help in some shape or form. Ads give them that chance.
And I’m not going to lie: when I first started running ads, it was really weird taking a break every hour. It takes time to get used to it, but just like everything else, the more you practice the better you will get, and the more natural it will become on your stream.
You as the streamer are going to have to do some work. Every community is different, and every streamer ultimately gets to make the decision on how they want to navigate running pre-roll or mid-roll ads. But I hope this deep dive makes it easier. It’s easy to get lost in a lot of the negativity surrounding content creation on Twitch, but I promise you: the answers you’re looking for are not as bleak as you think.