Why Twitch may be worth $1 billion to YouTube

Reports say YouTube will buy Twitch for $1 billion. Is the video game streaming site worth that much?

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.

Two of the internet's biggest video outlets could soon become one. According to a report from Variety, Google's YouTube is set to acquire popular video game streaming website Twitch for over $1 billion in cash. This would be YouTube's biggest acquisition yet, and would be a full circle moment for a company that was acquired itself for $1.65 billion by Google back in 2006.

Twitch has been doing quite well on its own, with 45 million monthly visitors that log on to watch broadcasts of games like "League of Legends" and "Call of Duty" on their PCs, mobile devices, and game consoles. While a billion-dollar backing from Google could help the streaming service expand even further into the mainstream, it could also vastly change the Twitch experience if users, some of whom make their living streaming to Twitch full-time, have to play by new rules.

A YouTube-Twitch deal hasn't been made official yet, but here are some ways gamers could be affected by this potentially massive pickup.

Full Google Integration

The beauty of using Google-owned services, be it Maps, YouTube or Picasa, is that you only need a single account for everything. This convenience could expand to Twitch if the deal goes official, as the streaming site could gain a wealth of users who opt to sign in via Google and might have not taken the time to set up an account otherwise.

This full integration could lead to Google+ notifications every time your favorite broadcasters go live, or maybe even the ability to start a one-on-one Hangouts session with a fellow gamer you meet in Twitch chat.

On the flip side, Google and YouTube would have to be careful not to alter existing Twitch accounts as there are tons of high-profile broadcasters like "Man vs. Game" who have built up a massive subscriber base over the past few years.

Benefits For Broadcasters

Speaking of broadcasters, there are a number of ways that a YouTube-owned Twitch could be good for video game streamers. As one of the most visited websites on the net (and a popular destination for gaming content), YouTube could add a "Featured Twitch Broadcasts" section to its home page, providing tons of extra exposure for folks who stream games like "League of Legends" and "Call of Duty." 
YouTube could also help Twitch on the technical side. Plenty of Twitch streamers upload recordings of their old broadcasts to YouTube, but the process requires streamers to download their existing archives and re-upload them to YouTube. A YouTube-owned Twitch shouldn't have this problem, as Google could opt to give users an instant "Send to YouTube" option that would allow broadcasters to quickly transfer previous streams to the world's biggest online video platform.

Twitch in More Places

There aren't many devices you can't watch Twitch on these days, and with Google's help, that number could shrink even more. Twitch already has dedicated apps for iOS, Android, Fire TV and consoles like Xbox One and Playstation 4, and a YouTube-owned Twitch could lead to official apps for Google's Chromecast or Chrome OS.

While Twitch streaming for mobile games is still in its infancy (the iOS version of "Asphalt 8" is the first to support the feature), Google could fully integrate Twitch with Android, meaning you could someday stream your "N.O.V.A. 3" or "Dead Trigger" gameplay right from your phone without any fancy hardware.

Playing the Game by Strict Rules

While YouTube could make Twitch a more populated place than ever, it could also limit the type of content that users broadcast and consume on the platform. YouTube went on a notorious crackdown in Dec. 2013, slamming tons of gaming content creators with copyright notices that either block or de-monetize a user's video. Game studios tend to let uploads of their games slide as long as they are injected with original commentary or graphics, but YouTube's automated "Content ID" system has almost indiscriminately flagged users, some of which are uploading content that is 100 percent their own. 
Twitch users rarely have such an issue, as broadcasts are live instead of on-demand and most game developers have a healthy relationship with the streaming service. However, a YouTube-owned Twitch might have to play by stricter copyright rules, and streamers could have to worry about their videos being automatically flagged whether they've broken a rule or not. This could lead to the downfall of popular yet legally dicey channels like "Twitch Plays Pokemon," in which the channel's chat room controls an emulated version of the popular Game Boy game.

Outlook

Twitch could go to some exciting places in the hands of YouTube, so long as it continues to operate mostly independently with more financial backing from Google. Twitch broadcasters, as well as the games they play, could get more exposure than ever, and the streaming site could benefit from extra features like quick Google+ sign-ins.

However, given YouTube's less-than-friendly reputation when it comes to handling game content, Twitch needs to make sure it's playing by fair rules if it signs this deal. The beauty of Twitch is that it's a place where anyone can discover new games, chat with friends and easily broadcast their gaming experiences, and anything that puts restrictions on that experience could affect millions of enthusiastic gamers for the worse. 

Follow Mike Andronico @MikeAndronico and on Google+. Follow us @TomsGuide, on Facebook and on Google+.

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