Online Streaming Craze

From talented performances to undignified stunts to various tutorials, China’s live streaming phenomenon has gone to the next level as a lifestyle & revenue-generator.

Every night, millions of millennials habitually swipe their smart phone screens and spend money on lavish virtual gifts with their favorite real-time entertainers. Meanwhile, they are one of the content generators who show off their talents or do funny acts. Over half of the Chinese population use live-streaming apps such as YY, MOMO and Huajiao, which provide everything from singing and dancing performances, makeup tutorials, trivia games and extreme sports to simply just chatting with the host. To them, online videos have become a lifestyle and a money-making tool. The revenue from live streaming reached 30 billion RMB (US$ 4.7 billion) in China last year, a 39 percent increase from 2016, according to the Ministry of Culture.

The revenue from live streaming reached 30 billion RMB (US$ 4.7 billion) in China last year, a 39 percent increase from 2016.

It is certainly a worldwide phenomenon but Chinese companies have found a way to make it extremely monetized. The revenue generated by virtual gifts that users purchase with cash to reward streamers are split between the streamers and the platform, though in some cases platforms can take as much as 80 percent. However, it doesn’t stop top earners making up to 40 million RMB a year or 100,000 RMB a day, including advertisement placement.

Few other industries can be as customer-driven as live steaming, with content directly and fully reflecting what the users want. For example, the “beautiful girls live broadcasting” has been one of the most popular genres particularly appreciated by diaosi, roughly translated to “loser/s”. These beautiful presenters do nothing but smile and chat with fans; occasionally they sing or dance as required.

A self-claimed diaosi explained why they need it: “You are so ordinary, with a dead-end ordinary job earning little money. You have nothing to do with beautiful girls; they won’t listen to you, they won’t accept your gifts, they won’t even look at you…until one day you find live streaming and you see so many talented girls who can sing and dance. And the most important thing is that they will thank you for your gifts, they will chat with you in the screen or even sing a song just for you. The meaning of this is, you find your long-lost confidence.”

After a couple of years of rapid growth, China’s live streaming industry is becoming more commercialized, with agencies scouting for talent, working with platforms and brands for product endorsements and other advertising opportunities. However, Kwai (or Kuaishou in Chinese pinyin) seems different and was described by WSJ as capturing “what life is like outside [of] China’s biggest cities.”

The average five million videos uploaded daily to Kuaishou are mainly from individuals of third and fourth tier cities and remote rural areas where the internet is the one and only fun and cheap place to “hang out.” With 400 million users it is believed to be the fourth largest social app after WeChat, Weibo and QQ. It’s a place where everybody–regardless of gender and background–can express themselves freely and realize their dream.

Take a look at Kuaishou’s content and you may understand why you’ve never heard of it and will never use it: the 46-year-old woman who made a living from eating everything from light bulbs to bugs and cacti; the heavily obese nine-year-old whose mother filmed him swigging from a beer bottle, carrying a lit cigarette; the 15-year-old girl proudly displaying her baby bump. Full of self-torture, sexism, violence, materialism and money-worship, it is characters like these that have earned Kuaishou an unenviable reputation of being vulgar and unrefined.

But on the other side of the story, there is a thirty-something-year-old mother who films her daily countryside life working in the field, showing what she makes for dinner etc. Somehow the dull everydayness has attracted more than 250,000 followers. Even some of them have become friends and chat with her regularly. This is the real meaning of this app, to ensure everyone has their life and can express it in the way they choose, instead of chasing for clicks and cash.

Tech giants such as Tencent, Alibaba and Baidu have seized the chance to invest in the live streaming industry, hoping to boost their existing offering in e-commerce, social networking and gaming. For example, in the cross-border e-commerce platform, sellers can shoot live videos about how they actually go to overseas supermarkets to buy baby formula to show the goods’ genuineness. It is only in China where different concepts can be so seamlessly sewed together to maximize profits.