Earlier this week, Mogul Mail streamer Ludwig Ahgren—who boasts an impressive half-million subscribers on Youtube—read out a DM from one of his followers in a video titled ‘Johnny Depp Wins the ‘Trial of the Century’.
The DM said: “I’m a 28-year-old woman who recently started watching you last year and I just want to say how let down I feel watching you and other content creators make a spectacle out of this trial.
Whether or not you believe Amber Heard was a victim, the amount of ridicule and harassment she has had to deal with is beyond compare. I can’t even imagine what victims of abuse feel like watching someone’s life get bulldozed by the media.
Even if you did try to remain a little unbiased, you did use this case for content. I don’t have any more words for how disappointing this is to see.”
As a non-victim of domestic abuse, I’ll steer away from speaking for others (both Depp and Heard, according to the jurors of the case), but I’d like to shine a spotlight on the message’s chief complaint… and it’s one that gets murkier the further we dive into the world of streaming.
Over the course of the Depp Vs. Heard case, apart from the constant opinion-mongering and fact-mining of what might be the most-viewed court case in American history, one needs to question the business interests at play here.
It’s no secret that media organisations have multiple vested interests in covering, re-covering, and pushing certain agendas within the scope of this trial. This was most popularly noticed with conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro, whose news outlet The Daily Wire reportedly spent ‘between $35,000 and $47,000 on Facebook and Instagram ads promoting pro-Depp articles about the trial, eliciting some four million impressions,’ according to The Washington Post.
TWP themselves certainly have a big stake here as well, having been the original publishers of Heard’s op-ed—the now-mythical document at the center of this entire libel trial. But what about individual content creators?
It seems that apart from craving more and more spectacle—whether it’s Depp’s charismatic yet pained claims of having his finger severed, or Heard’s deeply graphic allegations of sexual and physical abuse—the public also demands live reactions to all of this, provided gratuitously by hundreds of streamers on platforms such as Twitch or YouTube.
True, streaming isn’t about gaming anymore. Whether you’re looking for crochet bros, sexy girls in kiddie pools, or by-the-minute coverage of a defamation trial, you’ll find someone reacting and promoting said reactions via multiple platforms – often raking in massive amounts of money and attention in the process.
While I could take any number of big-name streamers as an example here, I’d like to focus on Asmongold—a 1.3M subscriber titan amongst streamers. Famous for being one of the most popular World of Warcraft creators on YouTube, Asmongold used to be a personal favorite of mine, atleast back in the early-mid 2010s (when WoW was still good).
Today, the 31-year-old streamer—who’s real name is Zack—still talks games, but also offers some degree of social commentary on his streams, which draw in millions of viewers each week. This combined online presence led to an explosion in revenue for him as well. Several news outlets estimate his monthly revenue from streams and affiliate links alone to sit at over $200,000.
Hell, I love to see a gamer get paid, but Asmon’s 2022 Twitch statistics reveal a darker picture of what streaming audiences seem to be into:
The streamer took a short hiatus between 2021-22, coming back to hype fans with dedicated content focused on MMOARPG Lost Ark, resulting in a peak viewership of 425,924.
However, what’s curious is that as the Depp trial approached, Asmongold found himself dedicating much more time to the ‘Just Chatting’ stream category, where he discussed and livestreamed the court proceedings.
(You can clearly see this with the chart quickly shifting from yellow Lost Ark figures to red ‘Just Streaming’ figures.)
Here, Zack saw a record-smashing 336 hours of streamtime in the last three months, that is three times his Lost Ark streams, and seven times more than his original claim to fame, WoW. The peak viewership here rivalled his main gaming numbers too, sitting at 413,658 on the day the jury passed their verdict.
Naturally, the streamer received some upset messages from followers, much in the same vein as Ludwig’s above. His reactions seem… pretty unabashed, to put it lightly:
If this upsets you just wait til you see what i have planned next
— Zack (@Asmongold) May 24, 2022
While Asmongold’s tactic of using the trial to boost viewership resulted in him topping the ‘Just Chatting’ category on Twitch, Ludwig seems to have not gone all in, and seems somewhat regretful of his choice after addressing his followers’ statements, and acknowledges that the channel growth it resulted in weighs on his conscience.
“Maybe it was wrong for me to cover it at all. And selfishly, I did grow from this, and maybe that is a bad thing.”
(Featured Image Credits: Live&Law, Twitch)