Live streaming flourishes along with potential problems among Chinese youth

Chinese app developers have changed people’s habit from watching live shows and playing live video games on TV to doing them on mobile tablets. They have also expanded the product’s role from a news consumption and gaming device to a tool for live-broadcasting and live-streaming everything.

Today, in a live video game, users no longer hear the boring deep male voice that teaches them how to play. Instead, they are guided by pretty and manga-characterized girls whose role emcompasses more than a simple explanation of the game strategy. Called anchors, the young girls also dance, sing and even talk to users.

U.S. apps like Periscope and Meerkat have definitely provided the Chinese live streaming industry with basic insights and directions, but live streaming in China has found a way of its own.

According to the 2016 Mobile Phone Industry Development Green Book released by 360, a Chinese mobile software development company, live streaming has become an important social media trend in China, with the four most downloaded live streaming apps in the country making up 22 percent of all downloaded apps. At a Huajiao Live product strategy conference held in June, public data showed that there are 5 million daily active users on Huajiao, making it the most popular live streaming platform for entertainment in China.

The flamboyantly dressed people also known as anchors earn money from tips by their audience. The number in the lower right corner refers to the audience. Credit: Huajiao

The flamboyantly dressed people also known as anchors earn money from tips by their audience. The number in the lower right corner refers to the audience. Credit: Huajiao

The live streaming platforms always make the most out of a live streaming. They transform it into a consuming activity through a function in them called “tipping.” Users can “tip” the anchor by purchasing virtual currency. “The profit largely comes from tipping,” Tang, a 24-year-old anchor who works for a live streaming company in China’s Jiangsu province, said. “The company would take a portion of the dividend and sometimes the anchors themselves can only take less than 30 percent of the total.”

Take the example of Huajiao, 15 cents can buy 10 Huajiao coins.  After the Rio Olympics, Huajiao invited the table tennis world champion, Jike Zhang, to have a live talk with his fans on the platform, and during the one-hour live show, over 10 million people liked the video along with 2.5 million Huajiao coins worth of tipping, which is equal to about $37,000.

A recent report released by Marcom365, a Chinese media research company, has shown that there were about 200 Chinese live streaming platforms and apps in 2015, creating a $1.5 billion market empire. The amount of live streaming users reached 200 million, and at the live peak there were over 3,000 studios live showing simultaneously. Also, behind the prosperous bubble is the fierce competition for market shares.

Not every live streaming company can win the market like tycoons such as Huajiao can. To survive the fierce competition, many companies promote sensual content to maintain their click rate.

A notorious event was the pornographic live show on the Heixiu platform. One of the anchors on Heixiu has asked audiences to tip her for a stripping show. The occurrence was investigated and the platform was punished after being reported. Following was the China Central TV’s coverage about  the messy market concerning defraud and pornography. “The entry standard of live streaming is low,” Tang said. “Basically, every digital company and advertising agency can do the business, and anyone can be an anchor, so I’m not surprised to see the chaos in the market.”

To retake control of content management, the Chinese Ministry of Culture released an administrative policy on July 1, stipulating that a live streaming company should be responsible for the content instead of just providing a platform for the audience. Also, those who streamed the illegal content like drug abuse or pornography are likely to become involved in a litigation.

On July 12, the ministry blacklisted many companies and platforms suspected of spreading illegal content. With a series of governmental actions, many Chinese citizens believe the live streaming industry is going through a transition phase, offering now original and healthy content to attract audiences.

Cover credit: Sergio Algeri/GYV