Although people have suspected that YouTube’s main competitor would eventually be Facebook — i.e., the other half of the advertising duopoly — the only company poised to seriously compete with YouTube is Twitch.
And it’s not just about gaming content. Twitch is poised to compete across all categories. Other potential competitors, like Twitter, Snapchat or even Netflix, fundamentally lack key features required to take a bite out of YouTube’s pie.
In order to compete with YouTube, a platform requires two things: monetization tools for creators and viewers hungry for content.
Facebook tried and failed
Facebook, and by extension Instagram, has been everyone’s expectation for the company most likely to eventually compete with YouTube in the online video sphere. After all, Facebook and Google make up the two halves of our global advertising duopoly. Both have businesses built almost entirely around capturing attention and serving ads.
Yet Facebook has failed to draw both viewers and creators to their long-form video platforms.
It’s easy to point to the public’s distrust of Facebook and their cavalier attitude about privacy as the source of their failure. That may be part of why Facebook failed, but the real problem lies in advertising greed. Facebook has shown that they prioritize revenue over everything (including democracy itself). There’s little chance they’ll ever launch an advertising product that shares any revenue with everyday creators, something YouTube has offered for over a decade.
Of course, Facebook has other problems as well, namely their user behavior and miserable search. First, Facebook users spend a lot of time on Facebook, but they generally aren’t there for long-form video content. But even if they were, they wouldn’t be able to find it. Part of YouTube’s success was built on the fact that they are a highly-functional search engine — the world’s second largest. Facebook has a hard time helping users find their own historical posts, let along high-quality video content on such obscure topics as Subaru repair or master-level chess strategy.
Instagram’s IGTV has potential; it’s great for consuming video but suffers from the same problems as the rest of Facebook: poor search and a lack of monetization for creators.
Twitter and Snapchat are too different on a fundamental level
Twitter and Snapchat seem like they could be YouTube competitors, but they have even bigger problems. Not only do they lack robust search and refuse to share their ad revenue, they also have a mobile-first mentality — a hard sell for users who want to watch long-form content.
Netflix doesn’t need that much content
Netflix has a big audience interested in long-form content; maybe they could compete with YouTube. Theoretically, they could share subscription revenue with creators based on watch time. It’ll never happen though, unfortunately, since unlike YouTube, they don’t need viewers to spend a lot time watching video. Netflix only needs to keep viewers interested enough to keep paying their monthly bill. In Netflix’s ideal world, they’d have one cheap-to-make show and billions of people paying $11 a month, only to never actually watch it.
Twitch is the only viable competition
Twitch on the other hand is in a great position to compete. They’ve demonstrated they can attract creators with robust monetization tools; enough that YouTube has had to play catch-up. They’re also able to attract viewers hungry for long-form content. (The average Twitch viewer spends 95 minutes watching every day). Originally only a live site, they now allow creators to upload pre-edited content. Also originally for gamers, Twitch is slowly evolving to appeal to non-gamer categories like talk shows, art and food.
There are three things holding Twitch back from competing with YouTube in a big way. First is the dominance of gaming content. Twitch is taking steps to be more inclusive toward non-gaming content, but they still primarily feature games on their homepage. Plus, gaming is still the only category that is split up with extreme granularity — not only into gaming sub-genres but by individual game. The equivalent for a category like talk shows might be not only a Politics Talk category but also a Healthcare Policy Talk category.
Considering the relative popularity of gaming on Twitch, I don’t blame them for skewing their categories heavily toward games, but it does reinforce the perception that Twitch is a gamers-only video streaming platform.
The second is the lack of depth in their content library. YouTube has 13 years of videos that are all searchable. As of this writing, you simply won’t find any content on Twitch about how to change the oil in your 2012 Subaru Forester, nor on many other obscure topics.
Finally, there’s search, though in this case, it’s a minor problem because the content you need search for — highly obscure topics — isn’t there yet.
The good news is it’s almost certain that these things will change. As more non-gaming creators move toward Twitch for the robust monetization tools, more viewers will follow and eventually, the perception about what Twitch is will change. In doing so, these creators will save more recorded videos, which users will then go looking for. The whole thing will snowball, as more viewers attract more creators, which subsequently attract more viewers.
All this is great for YouTube fans and creators, as the competition will lead to more innovation and improvements on both sides. To those who aren’t males between ages 18 and 34, Twitch may seem alien or even unwelcoming, but there’s a good chance that won’t be the case for long.