In wake of govt regulations, live streaming platforms can’t just rely on audience of hormone-driven men

By Liang Fei Source:Global Times Published: 2016/12/25 19:53:39

More than a pretty face


More than 300 million users have signed up for the 600 or so live streaming websites and apps that have emerged in China, according to a recent research report. Analysts say that China's live streaming industry is more developed than that of the US, though it hasn't been free of issues. Obscene content remains an alarming problem. The industry's success has depended largely on pretty faces to create content and horny men to consume it. It may have worked so far, but for the industry to reach its potential, analysts said it can't simply depend on male hormones.

A female broadcaster live streams her show in Xi'an, Northwest China's Shaanxi Province, on December 9. Photo: CFP

A female broadcaster live streams her show in Xi'an, Northwest China's Shaanxi Province, on December 9. Photo: CFP



Every night, Li Xiaomei, a 28-year-old woman in Beijing, starred in a live online broadcast on x.pps.tv, a living streaming site under the video platform iQiyi.

During those five hours, Li mostly sang songs, though occasionally stopped singing to chat a bit with her audience.

"I broadcast nearly five hours every day," Li told the Global Times on Thursday. "This is just like a job for me."

Li only started broadcasting on the platform a week ago. Before that, she had broadcast on some other live streaming sites like fanxing.kugou.com and YY Live.

She used to perform at bars and five-star hotels, but has given it up for the most part. She now earns more as a live online broadcaster. "I earned about 50,000 yuan ($7,197) a month when I was broadcasting on Fanxing. Because I'm new on x.pps.tv, I earn less, but I will stay longer here to see how things turn out," she said.

In 2016, more than 600 live streaming sites have appeared in China, many of which have secured investments from major venture capital firms or Internet giants.

Li is just one of those young women who are betting on the boom in live streaming, which has become a new favorite entertainment among Chinese youth.

Driven by hormones

Like many other live streaming websites, the homepage of x.pps.tv is full of pictures of attractive young women.

"Most broadcasters are pretty girls, so it is clear that it is men who are paying [to watch]," Li said.

Audience members can send broadcasters virtual gifts, which can then be exchanged for cash. Some of the popular broadcasters advertise products, which is another source of income for them.

The live streaming platforms are also cashing in on the boom because they take a share of the gifts given by audience members. YY Live, for example, takes 50 percent from the broadcasters' gift income, Li said. Sometimes, the broadcasters' agents also take a share.

The social networking app Momo is one example that has tasted the sweetness of the sector. The live streaming function that the company launched in the third quarter of 2015 has become a cash cow.

In the third quarter of 2016, Momo's live streaming business generated $108.6 million revenue as its population of paid subscribers doubled from the previous quarter to 2.6 million, according to a financial statement Momo released in November.

The live streaming sector has seen explosive growth in 2016. Internet consultancy iiMedia Research projected that the number of users of live streaming platforms in China will top 312 million by the end of 2016, up from 200 million in 2015, according to a report the consultancy released in September.

Still, there are problems. In some extreme cases that happened this year, several inappropriate broadcasts, including one featuring broadcasters having sex or eating raw chicken on a dare, received wide-spread media attention.

Authorities have rolled out policies to monitor the industry. In September, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television issued a regulation stipulating that live streaming sites have to be licensed.

On November 4, the Cyberspace Administration of China announced a regulation that "blacklisted" broadcasters cannot broadcast live anymore.

However, pretty faces are still the main offering for most live broadcasting sites. "Things have improved a bit since the beginning of this year, but this industry is still driven by 'hormones,'" Zhang Yi, CEO of iiMedia, told the Global Times on Thursday.

Untapped potential

Due to its explosive growth, China's live streaming sector has already surpassed that in the US, analysts said. However, "the application of live broadcasting is much more diverse in the US," said Zhao Bin, founder and CEO of real-time communications solutions provider agora.io.

For instance, live broadcasting has been used widely in social networking between friends in the US, Zhao said. But in China, broadcasters and their viewers usually do not know each other in real life.

Over the last few months, live broadcasting has been a major source of revenue for Agora, a company that offers services to Momo and other live broadcasting platforms.

Agora, founded in 2014, is now developing a real-time communication technology that allows seven broadcasters to video chat at the same time. Such technology would make live broadcasting more interactive, which is essential for the future of live broadcasting, Zhao said, noting that the technology could greatly enrich live broadcasting's applications, such as video conferencing or news reporting.

The industry has already begun to evolve, analysts said. Some events, such as concerts and press conferences, have started to use live broadcasting to reach a larger audience in China. The technology has also been used in training, education and online medical treatment.

"The sector will see further consolidation … and it will become more diversified in the future," Zhao told the Global Times Thursday.

Analysts predicted that nearly one-third of the live broadcasting platforms will be weeded out in 2017 amid tightened regulation and fiercer competition.

Zhang from iiMedia also noted that pretty faces alone can't guarantee long-term survival amid such cutthroat competition.

"Live broadcasting should be something more than a tool to appeal to hormones. It has to be changed, otherwise it will not last long," Zhang said. 

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