Live streaming offers instant fame
What do a child doing homework, a young man eating dinner and a female “anchorwoman” belting out pop songs have in common?
They are among the millions of Chinese live-streaming what, to some, appear to be menial, banal tasks, but for the hundreds of thousands of people who tune in everyday, there is a certain charm that keeps them coming back for more.
Live streaming generates huge profits for the host websites and catapults many “presenters” to overnight fame, while lining their pockets. However, the runaway success of streaming has the authorities concerned, as the service is being misused to spread obscene and violent content.
According to China Internet Network Information Center, by the end of June, there were 325 million livestreaming users in China — about half of the country’s entire online community.
This has pushed the development of live-streaming websites and applications. Figures released by internet research agency iResearch show that, on average, a livestreaming “platform” was established every three days this year. There is plenty of opportunity to monetize the service, too, and more than 30 such websites and apps have secured financial backing exceeding 5 billion yuan ($7.2 billion).
In August, major livestreaming website douyu.com announced that internet powerhouse Tencent had bought a 20 percent stake in the streaming website for $226 million.
The sites operate in a regulatory gray area, and information technology specialists agree that there is a pressing need to draw up a suitable supervisory framework for the sector, while the authorities have warned websites that if they do not take responsibility for the content streamed on their sites, they could be shut down or even prosecuted.
Huang Xue, 24, is a selfstyled anchorwoman on the live-streaming app Inke.
“All I need is a cellphone, headphones and makeup,” Huang said.
She sings pop songs and says “Hi” to her fans. In return, her followers send virtual flowers, hearts and applaud her performance. However, the most coveted form of gratuity is a digital red envelope deposited in Huang’s e-wallet by her adoring viewers.
“I only make a few hundred yuan a month — that is peanuts compared with what many of the top ‘pro anchors’ make.”
Many of these pro anchors are women. They tend to work with high-end streaming equipment, their faces often plastered in makeup and their fashion choices leaving little to the imagination.
Online celebrities on livestreaming sites generated about 58 billion yuan in 2016, more than the 44 billion yuan made at the box office in 2015, according to China Business Network.
According to iResearch, China has more than 200 livestreaming apps and websites, with an estimated market value of about 9 billion yuan. On major websites such as inke.com and douyu.com, the anchors can earn huge sums of money from collecting red envelopes, even though a percentage is shared with the host website.
Of all the live-streaming websites, inke.com is one of the most successful. It was valued at 3 billion yuan within just six months of its debut in March 2015.
Fall from grace
The temptation of more money has proved too much for many online celebrities, who have chosen to go the “extra mile”.
In October, several “anchormen” on kuaishou.com reportedly broadcast themselves distributing money to the poor in Liangshan Yi autonomous prefec- ture in Southwest China’s Sichuan province. It later transpired that once the cameras stopped rolling, they took the money back.
In November, a man was detained in Shanghai for emulating drug use to his followers.
Some anchors have even been caught in “compromising positions” during webcasts, according to a report on youth.cn.
The authorities are beginning to draft and implement measures for this emerging sector.
In Beijing, thousands of accounts on live-streaming websites have been shut down since a national regulation came into effect on Dec 1, local authorities said last week.
The central government has punished or closed more than 2,500 websites across the country since a campaign against online pornography was launched in April this year, the country’s anti-pornography office said on Thursday last week.
More than 3.27 million pieces of “harmful information”, including items deemed “erotic”, had been deleted as of November, according to a statement from the National Office Against Pornographic and Illegal Publications.
“Narcissistic and vulgar content is not suitable,” iResearch CEO Zhang Yi said, adding that the industry is still in its infancy and once it loses its “shock of the new” appeal, user numbers will inevitably decrease.
Major live-streaming websites, including huajiao.com, douyu.com and yixia.com, have agreed to remove offensive content from their platforms, and help build a cleaner, safer online environment.
“The industry will mature in two to three years,” said Liang Zhiwei, Inke vice-president. “Now it is a critical turning point for our future.”
Number of live-streaming of June
An online celebrity broadcasts herself buying cloths in a shopping mall in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, in June.