There are two things about live streaming in 2021 everyone should know. The first is that live streaming is no longer only about playing video games and inviting other people to watch (though there’s plenty of that happening). The second, more importantly, is that for many people live streaming is more than just a hobby – it’s a bona fide revenue stream. For some, it’s even a full-time career.
But don’t quit your day job just yet. It’s true that it’s incredibly easy to start live streaming. It’s also true that some people know how to make money by streaming, and there’s no reason you can’t learn how to do it, too. You might even be able to increase your sales with live streaming as a business.
But getting to the point where you get paid to live stream takes time, energy, and content that makes people want to watch you. The people who are getting rich streaming are an incredibly small minority. On Twitch, for example, the top 5,000 channels get 75% of all viewing time. Twitch has more than two million channels. But if you’re ready to put in the work — a lot of it — you can make money by streaming too.
We made this list of the most common, hassle-free ways to generate income from live streaming, followed by the more involved and unorthodox methods.
Use these methods if you’re ready to generate income from live streaming.
1. Getting donations or tips from fans
If you want a sign that your live video streaming hobby/side gig/career is moving in the right direction, wait for your first donation or tip. It’ll feel so gratifying when you realize that someone, somewhere, is appreciating what you do enough to send you a couple of bucks.
Most live-streaming platforms and websites allow you to make money by letting viewers send you donations or tips. They usually have integrated services or even their own virtual “goods” or “currencies” viewers can use for the transaction.
Here’s a breakdown of the donation/tip systems on major platforms:
- YouTube’s main tipping service is Super Chat. Viewers can use tips to pin messages in your channel’s chat window, making them more noticeable. YouTube also lets users buy chat animations called Super Stickers, and you get a cut of each purchase.
- Twitch allows viewers to “cheer” using Bits, the platform’s virtual currency. If you’re a Twitch affiliate or a partner, you get around $0.01 for every Bit viewers use when cheering. The viewers get to write a message that appears together with a special kind of emote, a Cheemote.
- Facebook’s tipping service revolves around Stars, a type of virtual good viewers can buy and send to you, giving you $0.01 per Star. You need to be a part of Facebook’s Level Up program to enable Stars. Facebook also supports fundraising charitable donations for U.S.-based 501(c)(3) organizations.
When receiving tips, remember to give a shout out to the person giving it. If the tip comes with a message or a question during a live AMA (Ask Me Anything), it would be a good idea to prioritize it over other questions.
2. Regular viewer payments on the streaming platform
Getting an occasional tip from your viewers is great, but getting regular payments is better. These payments usually net you a couple of bucks each, but if you can get enough of them, they add up.
You usually need to meet certain requirements to enable this kind of support, as platforms reserve it for members of their content creator programs. The streaming platforms that don’t have regular payment systems yet will probably roll them out in the future, as it’s a popular way to make money while streaming.
Here’s an overview of recurring payment features on some of the major platforms:
- YouTube has a channel membership program that allows users to subscribe to channels with monthly payments. To open your channel to this opportunity, you need to be in the YouTube Partner Program and meet additional eligibility requirements.
- Twitch has a paid subscription program that lets you earn from paid subscriptions if you’re an Affiliate or Partner. Your viewers get one subscription for free through Twitch Prime, or they can pay for them using PayPal, Amazon Pay, or credit cards.
- Facebook Gaming extended its Fan Subscriptions feature to Level Up gaming content creators. You have to achieve a certain number of returning weekly viewers, and the feature is only available in certain regions.
If the platform allows it, you should make content that’s exclusive to your subscribers. It’s a nice way to show your most loyal viewers that you appreciate their support. Also, remember to give a shout out to the people who subscribed, and even a mention on their subscription anniversaries.
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3. Tips and regular payments via third-party platforms
You might not want all your streaming revenue to come through the streaming platform. Not everyone may be interested in joining the partnership programs, or you might lose your status and standing with the platform. Maybe you just want to keep things separate to make it easier to move from one platform to another, or operate on several platforms at the same time.
For whatever reason, you may find yourself in a need of a third-party platform you can use to process payments from donations and subscriptions. There’s plenty you can choose from. Some of the most popular options include:
- Streamlabs for one-time donations. It integrates easily with Twitch, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Picarto, and it offers six different payment options.
- Patreon for regular donations/subscriptions. With the ability to let patrons set monthly pledges, Patreon is about the closest thing you can get to a subscription system without going through a streaming platform’s program.
- GoFundMe or Kickstarter for project-based funding. If you have a project to complete and you’re looking for funding, set up pages on these websites and use your live streams to promote it.
For most of these services, you should consider creating special rewards and content for people who support you. Decide carefully which content goes behind the paywall and which stays free, though. You can’t keep all your best stuff locked behind a subscription; some of it has to stay free to attract new viewers.
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4. Revenue from ads
Advertising bucks are already used to power half the internet, including Google services and Facebook. Why not you too? If you join the right streaming platform or social network, you can start earning some decent ad money.
Not every streaming platform offers ads to creators, though. In fact, some are very much against ads. Others have not yet included a third-party advertising service.
If you want to generate revenue with ads, join these platforms:
- YouTube offers pre-roll and mid-roll ads, as well as display and overlay ads.
- Facebook Live offers mid-roll ads if you meet the viewership number criteria.
- Twitch offers in-stream ads, as well as display and native ad opportunities.
Advertising in live streaming is a hot topic and a regular cause of controversy. Try to exercise as much control as you can over the advertisements displayed during your streams or on your channel. Also, remember that viewers can use ad-blocking software to prevent some ads from showing. Therefore, having ads as the sole monetization option for your live streaming may not be the best idea.
5. Brand deals and sponsorships
Less controversial than regular ads, brand deals and sponsorships are another way you can earn money while streaming, by engaging with businesses in a mutually beneficial arrangement. If you have a large following on streaming platforms, brands will reach out to you with offers. And if they don’t, you can reach out to them.
When dealing with brands, it pays to be professional and detail-oriented. You’ll want to negotiate every part of the deal, to be 100% sure you’re on the same page regarding your commitment.
Some of the ways you make money by streaming through deals with brands include:
- Sponsorships, where whole streams are sponsored by a brand.
- Banners and other types of advertisements you can display during your streams or on your channel or profile page.
- Sponsored content, like when a game developer pays you to play their game.
Your audience is what will get a brand’s attention. You should be able to pull decent numbers of viewers and have a clear understanding of who they are, their interests, and the types of problems they need solved. You make money when brands agree to pay you, as one part of the deal you agree to. Be mindful of cutting deals that make you look like a sellout. Your audiences might not like that, and if you lose your audience, you lose the sponsors.
6. Affiliate sales
A membership in an affiliate program allows you to earn a commission every time a shopper clicks on your affiliate link and makes a purchase. Sometimes, you don’t even have to post a link, because all you need is a promo or coupon code viewers can use when they shop at the place you’re promoting.
Typically, you place the affiliate link or the code in your stream description. You could even mention the coupon code once or twice during the stream. The link or the code are provided to you once you join the affiliate program.
Keep in mind that unless the streaming platform has a deal with the affiliate program, the platform isn’t profiting from your affiliate sales. So keep your content to the point and make the products or services you recommend relevant to your topic. Don’t stream for the sake of making sales — your method for making money by streaming should come second to creating good content.
7. Create and sell your own merch
Merch is an important revenue stream for many people who broadcast live video content. Streaming platforms have recognized this and give users plenty of advice, offering them some truly useful tools to help boost merch sales.
Even with these tools, however, you’ll still have plenty to figure out on your own if you decide to sell merch. What kind of products do you want to sell? T-shirts, mugs, and plush toys are all good choices. You can also sell digital products, such as music or e-Books.
You’ll have to think about the design, production, inventory, and shipping of your merch as well. There are a couple of ways you can do this, including:
- Build your own online store. Handle production, store inventory, and shipping all on your own.
- Oversee the design but let one of the platform-approved merch companies produce, store, and ship the merch for a cut of the profits.
- Partner with stores that let you take advantage of special opportunities on select platforms, such as the YouTube merch shelf.
Each of these solutions will offer you different profit margins and will require different levels of involvement. Whatever you choose, you can tie your merchandise business to your live streaming.
8. Develop pay-per-view content
Producing live content and selling tickets for it has become hugely popular since the 2020 pandemic. Live streaming is on a meteoric rise, and platforms that were traditionally shy with content adoption are taking up live streaming. As a result, new opportunities for content production are everywhere.
It’s no longer just gaming content that gets live viewers. People with all kinds of interests and hobbies are turning to live streams to learn and exchange opinions with like-minded individuals. If you can create content that’s appealing to these viewers, you can make money by selling tickets for your live stream.
First, you need to create content people will want to pay to watch. It should have some level of exclusivity or a way to stand out from content already available for free. You also have to use a platform that lets you sell tickets to live streams. There are services like Streamtick that let you sell admission to live broadcasts on YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter as well. With killer content and a ticketing service, you have everything you need to develop pay-per-view content.
9. Coach/teach/offer lessons
Share your knowledge through live seminars, workshops, or classes. If that sounds too academic for your taste, consider becoming someone’s mentor, coach, or teacher. As long as you have the skills or the knowledge other people want to learn, you can earn money from sharing them, and live streaming can help.
A common format is spending one-on-one time with someone who is paying for lessons or coaching sessions, ideally helping them achieve some goals. For example, you can offer a couple of one-on-one lessons every month to the people who pledge your highest tier of support on Patreon. You can also do it for one-off transactions.
Many streaming platforms are evolving in a way that benefits this revenue model. An increasing number are allowing co-streaming, for example, which is perfect for coaching someone on playing a video game. As platforms improve their overall quality, the dreaded lag time is disappearing, making it easier to communicate via chats. Plus, some platforms allow call-ins. With the right combination of platform and service, you can start critiquing people’s in-game builds, showing them new skills, or even preparing them for jobs.
Ever since the beginning of the internet, people have looked for opportunities to do interesting new things online and earn some money in the process. If you want to use live streaming to generate income, you can pick one of the methods from this list — or all of them. It's up to you. With a little help from a multistreaming tool like Restream, you can even try earning money on several streaming platforms all at once. But keep in mind that you have to create content people want to see. Once you build that audience, you need to make sure you keep it. When it comes to live streaming and making money, your audience is your biggest asset.