Digital Ferraris are the currency of China’s booming live streaming economy
Audiences for live streaming mobile apps have exploded in China, presenting a huge opportunity for content creators and brands prepared to partner with them. There are major differences in the way live streaming works in China compared to the West, ranging from the type of content that can be shared to the way streamers make money, which is why we’ve prepared this introduction to how it all works.
What is mobile live streaming like in China?
Live-streaming is not a new practice – we have grown accustomed to streaming of sports matches, major news events and cam girls over the past decade – but live-streaming in China has slightly different qualities.
While Youtube has provided an international platform for user-generated video content for over a decade, China’s online video platforms were more popular for TV shows and movies produced by professionals. It wasn’t until the rise of mobile live streaming that broadcasting their every day lives reached the mainstream Chinese netizens.
Chinese streaming platforms are mobile native (though also accessible through a web browser), feature user generated content, and because the broadcasts are live, viewers can interact with broadcasters and vice versa.
How big is it?
Live streaming really began to gain traction in China in 2013 when it migrated from desktop to a mobile-native interface where you could find beautiful girls performing on the Room 6 (六房间) app and geeks playing the latest online roleplaying titles for gaming fans on platforms at Douyu (斗鱼). Fast forward to late 2016 and the Chinese mobile live streaming market has exploded to over 200 apps and 200 million users. Compared to the user base from international platforms as Twitch’s 45 million users and Periscope’s 10 million users, mobile live-streaming in China is really, really big.
Who are the major players?
The market potential of mobile streaming is reflected in the strong interest Chinese tech companies have invested in this space. The most popular platforms are all affiliated to local tech giants: Inke received investment from Duomi Music; Hua Jiao was bought by 360.com; Yi Zhibo was acquired by Sina; and Meipai is owned by Meitu Xiuxiu’s beauty camera app.
With a wide choice of apps, there is fierce competition for viewers. The two main strategies are signing key opinion leaders who already have a strong online following and developing new talent, helping to promote them and improve their content. Watching long live streams can be boring, and it’s quality content that brings viewers back for more.
Who are the stars?
Among the most popular live streams, unsurprisingly, are beautiful girls giving make-up tutorials, showing off their dancing, playing instruments or doing not much at all. One of the first applications for live streaming, like other online technologies, was pornography – cam girls. In an attempt to keep things from getting to salacious, the Chinese government has even banned women from eating bananas on camera.
Gaming remains a strong subject of interest from watching players progress to commentary on e-sports. But what live streaming has really popularised is mundane videos of broadcasters eating (things other than bananas), walking the streets, or on the job. The live chat feed opens up interaction between broadcaster and viewers, and among viewers. The broadcaster can address audience questions and requests, and sometimes even bring audience members into the video stream.
Popular broadcasters are making a career out of live streaming and many are managed by talent agencies. Viewers can purchase credits to exchange for gifts. These gifts are animated stickers holding real value anywhere from 1-1,000RMB each. Fans show off by sending Ferrari and yacht stickers directly into the stream to capture the attention of broadcasters in return for a shout out or performance. On the receiving end, broadcasters can convert these gifts into real cash, making as much as 300,000 RMB per day. For each transaction, the platform takes a small cut, enough to support an increasingly lucrative industry.
For comparison, mobile-first app Periscope allows viewers to send hearts for appreciation and tips can be transferred through third party payment apps. On YouNow, with 5 million users, broadcasters can earn up to US$15,000 per month from digital tips, but first you have to become a YouNow Partner by broadcasting at least twice a week, have an average of 500 viewers and follow a set of rules.
Where do brands come in?
Brands are excitedly watching the space mature, pondering how to add mobile live streaming to their marketing toolkits. Recent efforts include live-broadcasting star-studded events and giving netizens a backstage peek at photo shoots. Taobao held a live stream event called “517” (phonetically similar to 我要吃, or I want to eat) to promote their food delivery service, and Durex caused a stir with their campaign live streaming 100 people getting ready to have sex, teasingly cutting off the stream after three hours of anticipation.
But the real future might not be in the hard labour of building and maintaining a branded live-streaming account, but rather strategically building relationships with content creators and finding creative ways to keep them watching.
- Article by Jidi Guo