So you want to do live streams. Are you sure? Okay. Let's talk about it.

Let's talk numbers

Being a "content creator" (sorry for those who hate that term) is a job, for sure, and many people do it, successfully, full-time, they pay rent with it etc.

Platforms like Twitch & YouTube would have you think that, if you put in enough effort, you can grow your channel from nothing to 🎉 profitable ✨ in just a few short years.

Here's what's more likely to happen though:

For a long, long time, you get the scraps. This is my current position, so I can show you some numbers.

I have ~850 followers on Twitch right now, and sometimes, even though I tell folks not to, someone will subscribe to the channel, either with real money or the one free subscription they get through Amazon Prime (since Twitch is an Amazon company now, in case you missed the memo).

And then you get something like $1.69 of "revenue" on your Twitch account. That's if you're an Affiliate already, which is the somewhat-easily-attainable tier on Twitch.

In the past 30 days I've streamed 3 times (trying to get back into it, Rust-focused, etc.). Before that (years ago) I used to stream regularly, all sorts of content. My lifetime earnings are $16.69 - way below the $50 payout threshold.

I think this already takes into account Twitch's cut, but it doesn't take into account payout fees, any additional bank fees, currency conversion, tax withholding (if your country doesn't have a tax treaty with the US — mine does, thankfully), and of course, income tax and any other kind of tax you need to pay locally.

Those numbers would need to go way, way up to even earn minimum wage. The hope is that, at some scale, the algorithm starts liking you, you show up at the top of some listings, maybe even in some featured spots, and growth goes a lot faster.

So you enlist moderators, and then you burn out. Because they all do. Even if they have outside help.

Even if (and that's a big if) "the algorithm starts liking you", it's a grind. You need to maintain a stream schedule, and adjust it based on when other popular streamers are live. You need to always have that cheery face and attitude, and multitask to the extreme while streaming, doing self-promotion on platforms like Twitter (which I'm no longer willing to do anymore), and ideally others like TikTok or even Instagram.

You need to do shorts of something hilarious that happened on stream (of course there's only so many hilarious things that can happen on stream, so it gets forced after a while), or even better, original shorts. The words "please like comment and subscribe" or "thanks for the 500 bits donation / follow / subscribe" will be burned forever in your brain.

Some folks mind it less than others I guess! But I want it to be very clear to everyone that, at least on Twitch, there's really only room for the biggest creators, as far as "meaningful revenue" is concerned. And it is truly a full-time job, in the sense that you won't have time to really do anything else.

What about YouTube? It's essentially the same. Both platforms are trying very hard to enroll you on their race to the bottom, which you can tell because they keep suggesting what to do.

Twitch tells you which games to play, and how many people are watching these channels on average:

Twitch is suggesting Eversoul, Albion Online, Trackmania, They Are Billions, and Warcraft III

Warcraft III is hot again? Who knew! They did. They have the data.

YouTube tells you where your viewers come from. This is from my latest stream (excuse the large image):

A list of videos recommending my latest live stream, including: Why does the internet love this book? First Ring Daily 1371: Flying Clean, One of my favorite scens from Louie, Man Gets Recinarnated as Level 1 Slime But Become..., something in german, I entered a 1/24 Mini Crawler Comp, Home Depot, After Live Ela Gawin, OPT Unemployment Days, Americana Stockton Art Studio Gallery, Comparing Arabic to Other Lanaguages, Some bollywood actor video, Something about Musk, something in Turkish I guess, Today I really got to know my feelings very well, and Post-Crust of Rust Q&A

The only relevant video here is Jonhoo's Post-Crust of Rust Q&A.

It also tells you what your audience is interested in, and where there's content gaps:

Your audience is interested in Python and C, they want to know about discord token generators replit, opensea bot python, and chatbot python

Streamers used to have to do all that research themselves, using third-party websites, running searches of their own, etc., so one hand, it's a big time-saver.

But on the other, it's also... not really encouraging content created with purpose, on your own schedule, exploring what might not be popular but is interesting to you. They're helping you to surf trends, because it's in their interest that many people try that at once.

Right now, the algorithm doesn't like me yet on YouTube. I have almost 7000 subscribers, and most videos right now have between 4K-7K views (mostly thanks to the long tail — I'll come back to that).

This may all sound like I'm complaining or disillusioned in some way: I'm not! I don't expect to make a living wage off of either Twitch or YouTube, and it's a good thing, because it's extremely unlikely to happen.

Let me just hammer this point home and then we'll look at the technical merits of each platform and why I'm leaving Twitch behind:

Doing everything at once, poorly

But say you don't care. You think that advice is hooey and you want to give it an honest try. The thing everyone used to do was stream on Twitch (because it was the only viable option, before YouTube Live Streaming and other platforms were really a thing), and then publish VODs (video-on-demand, just video archives of the stream) on YouTube.

And also make videos just for YouTube.

Twitch has an "export VOD to YouTube" functionality, but it's not automated. Also, if you're a Twitch affiliate (hard-ish) or partner (harder), you need to respect a 24-hour exclusivity window.

Also, using "export VOD to YouTube" is not a good idea, for a bunch of reasons!

Folks are okay with "downtime" during live streams, because they can hang out in chat, they're probably multitasking themselves, etc. For videos, it's a bit different. They can skip ahead, but it's annoying. The only comments on my last couple VODs are "starts at (timestamp)", helpfully! But that doesn't skip over short breaks, etc.

So what you really should be doing is recording locally, in higher quality, edit that, and then upload it to YouTube. That ends up being a lot of work, so you should probably get a good video editor. I don't know where they hide, but I haven't looked really hard. I also get the feeling they're simultaneously underpaid, and also too expensive for someone just starting out.

Another option to get the "best of both worlds", which I was doing up until recently, is to do "simulcast" (broadcasting to several destinations at once) with a service like Restream.

How did that work out?

Well, first off, quality-wise, you're limited by the worst service: in this case, Twitch. I thought Restream would do me the courtesy of transcoding my high-quality input so it would be within Twitch's limits (6000kbps, there's wiggle rooms and maybe preferential treatment for affiliates/partners, but it's all very unclear).

But no! Restream really just duplicates the input stream, which means even though YouTube would accept 4K@60 up to 51000kbps, I can't do that — I have to do 1080p@60, at 6000kbps, and that's what ends being in the Twitch archives and YouTube "past live streams" sections.

That's not really what pushed me over the edge, though (although it was truly annoying). These past few streams, by using Restream, I technically violated the terms of Twitch Affiliate. They have an exclusivity clause that says you can't simulcast (stream simultaneously) on multiple platforms.

You can stream exclusively on Twitch, stop the stream, and then immediately start streaming on some other platform. Gee whiz, thanks mister!

It used to be even worse for Twitch Partners: they couldn't stream at all on other platforms, at any given time, while they were partners. That was relaxed in August 2022.

They also let you simulcast to short-form platforms like TikTok / Instagram, but Twitch + YouTube is a no-no.

So at that point, I had a few choices!

Going Twitch-only

In my mind, Twitch is still the destination for streaming, but that's just because I'm old. And so is their platform.

As I mentioned earlier, 1080p60 @ 6000kbps is the best they'll let you do. I invested a bunch of money to be able to produce 4K60 content, so that's a bummer. There's often a lot of text on my screen, and the higher resolution and higher bitrate helps a bunch for those who are watching on desktop, especially when watching VODs.

Going Twitch-only would mean, that, if I still want VODs on YouTube, I'd have to either:

These all either cost money or time. The last two also mess with the flow of a YouTube channel: "past live streams" are presented distinctly from "videos" (which have higher production quality, and you want to put front and center on your channel page / notify folks about), and that's a good thing.

The 24h exclusivity window is a bummer in itself: I often post on social media when I'm done streaming, and I want to link to something folks can go to to catch up on what we've done, especially if something cool happened. Can't do that with that exclusivity window!

Delayed re-broadcasting

Someone suggested broadcasting on Twitch from the recording of the YouTube live stream, maybe even hanging out in chat, so there's more timezone and platform coverage, etc.

That was a half-serious suggestion, thankfully — that's a lot more work, and... kinda the whole point of streaming on Twitch is to interact with your audience (you're supposed to have alerts for new follows and subscribers and donations, and call them out! and have goal indicators as layers on your stream! keep that hustle going baby!). There's not really any point in having a dead chat in a format where you can't seek back/forward.

Going with something else

Some suggested Owncast, or some other homebrew solutions (some involving doing business with a company I don't want to hear about anymore), and: I simply don't have the time.

I like free software and self-hosting and ideological purity as much as the next 30-something white dude, but I'm already "testing the waters" when it comes to streaming, I know having to put all that extra effort in is just not something I can afford right now.

Here's the response I made to "why not Owncast" on Mastodon:

always the same answer: YT is a better product, accessible from more platforms, has network effects, and it creates less work for me. I'm already making my own platform for VODs, I'll revisit the owncast idea later since there's no following to build there specifically.

I have to be pragmatic about this now that my livelihood depends on it — no point in being a purist and burning myself out.

As for literally every other mainstream live-streaming product out there, I haven't used any of them as a viewer. If they were so mainstream, surely I would have used them by now, right?

Going YouTube-only

I didn't like that option initially because it felt like putting all my eggs in the same basket, but... in the short-term, while I'm working on my own VOD platform (and I do NOT want to have to set up my own livestream solution), it may be the smart choice.

See for yourself:

YouTubeTwitch
Parent companyGoogle / AlphabetAmazon
Platform cut30%50%
Content focusBroadGaming
Max quality4K60 @ 51mbps1080p60 @ 6mbps
Simulcast allowed?YesNo
VOD free of restrictions?YesNo
Grows your YT channel?AutomaticallyRequires manual work
Chat featuresMehGreat
Apps / platform coverageGreat (web, mobile, TV etc.)Great (web, mobile, TV etc.)
Can catch up with live?YesNo
Automated live captionsYesNo
Ad moneyYesYes, for affiliates/partners
Subscription moneyYes, shared (YT premium)Yes, per channel ($ / via Prime)
DonationsYes (super chat / super stickers)Yes (bits)
"Going live" notificationsYesYes
DiscoveryTons of funnelsSorted by # of viewers, good luck
Raid other channels?Live Redirect, opt-in for raideeYes, anyone

This is not an exhaustive comparison, but the picture is pretty clear.

It's the picture of a platform arriving late to the game ("YouTube Gaming") and that needs to beat the existing juggernaut (Twitch) on both price and features.

Usually what happens is that, if they manage to overtake it, once they achieve monopoly, they make it worse. And that can still happen (they've already started exploring cost-cutting, but walked it back).

But in that picture I also see a platform that arrived late, and thus... managed to make better engineering decisions.

For example, on YouTube, if you join a stream late, you can seek back and watch what you missed at a higher speed, skipping over breaks, until you catch up to the live - can't do that on Twitch!

I explored "live captions", and that's something YouTube lets you do! Either you have a professional captioning service, or you can enable live captioning:

YouTube live captions settings: closed captions is expanded and shows Automatic captions, POST captions to URL, or Embedded 608/708

What about Twitch? No automated option there for streamers that can't afford paying for live stenographers or a third-party service:

The Live Closed Captions system on Twitch accepts captions in line 21 CEA-708/EIA-608 format and in CC1 NTSC field 1.

Twitch docs

As far as policies go, neither platform is really great there. I won't go into too many details, but I have a bone to pick with both.

So, bye bye Twitch

It feels weird, but for now, I'm going to stop streaming on Twitch, and go YouTube-only.

That means a single chat, less work for me (guaranteeing I can keep doing this regularly), a better stream quality (and high-quality VODs, published almost immediately after the stream ends).

Of course, I don't expect to make a living off of YouTube either, and that's kind of the silver lining to this article if you're reading this from the "I want to be a streamer!" angle: most of my revenue comes from donations, via GitHub Sponsors and Patreon.

And that's what a lot of folks have found out the hard way this past decade: trying to emulate big content creators on YT/Twitch is a fool's errand. However, finding a niche, and building an audience who's willing to support you on a separate platform, is the way to go.

Note that I'm not just being sponsored for the occasional streams and videos, I have a bunch of articles on my website, and I'm doing open-source work on projects like hring. And on top of all that, I still do some contract work.

Now that I don't have a day job anymore, it feels like I have five.

Ah well. I'll see y'all on YouTube live! Take care!