If Google buys Twitch, will it put a giant target on their backs?

Google will reportedly buy Twitch.tv for $1 billion. But will the sale open up Twitch to legal disaster? Worry not, says the company.

Twitch.tv
Screen shot from Twitch.tv, which is live-streaming the hacked game 'TwitchPlaysPokemon' which has amassed more than 120,000 players since Feb. 14, and more than 14 million views of the live stream.

Multiple media outlets reported Friday that Google will buy the popular live-streaming video game site Twitch.tv for $1 billion. As rumors of the sale swirled, some Twitch fans worried that the deal would fundamentally change the site.

More than 45 million viewers tune into Twitch to watch people play video games. Some broadcasters are remarkably skilled at their chosen games; others are hilariously bad. Twitch does not decide who plays which games. All of that is up to the independent broadcasters themselves, and without much of a spotlight on Twitch over the past few years, those streamers have done pretty much whatever they want. 

But will this sale to Google attract the ire of litigious game publishers?

Fans can relax, according to Twitch, because many major game publishers have already signed a deal with Twitch that will allow their games to be shown on the network. 

“Early on, we made sure we had permissions from the major publishers for people to live stream their [games] on our platform,” says a Twitch spokesman who goes only by the name Chase. 

Google's purchase of Twitch may go more smoothly than when the search engine giant bought YouTube in 2006. Google had a lot of work to do with enforcement of music copyrights when it acquired YouTube for $1.65 billion, but Twitch already has relationships with game publishers.

“I can say that Sony, EA, 2K, Nintendo, Microsoft -- all the major players in gaming -- have their own channels which they got a lot of use out of during E3 [Electronic Entertainment Expo]. So we’re not expecting any issues on the licensing front.”

In fact, Twitch experienced its largest presence to date at E3, when most major publishers announce their big releases for the coming year.  

While some viewers may balk at the counter-culture, gamer-driven site going mainstream via Google, it could also mean even bigger purses for online championships, such as the League of Legends Championship Series currently taking place on Twitch.

Even without a giant such as Google behind it, Twitch broadcasters have created massive, social events, such as “Twitch Plays Pokemon,” which attracted more than 120,000 concurrent players and 14 million viewers over a two-week run in early February. Imagine how big Twitch Plays Pokemon could have been if Google's Twitch were the platform.

“It’s funny, but I think a lot of kids really got their first introduction and discovered Twitch when Twitch Plays Pokemon got so big that it made the news,” Chase says.

Twitch Plays Pokemon threw a spotlight onto the value of live Internet streaming and focused attention on a site where competitive gaming is both a spectator sport and a lucrative business. Livestream gaming events currently offer million-dollar prize pools and provide a huge opportunity for advertisers.

[Editor's note: This article has been revised from its original version to clarify that Twitch has not publicly discussed the terms of its sale to Google.]

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