As Periscope-like apps go viral among young people, calls go out for greater supervision

By Liang Fei Source:Global Times Published: 2016-5-9 20:08:01

Online social networking is evolving - from text, to photos, then to videos and now to live videos. In the past year, live video apps, which allow people to broadcast live to their followers, have gone viral both domestically and abroad. The leading live streaming apps in the US have drawn investments from Internet giants like Twitter. In China, the sector is also flourishing. By the end of 2015, there were around 200 live streaming websites or apps operating, drawing some 200 million users. But inappropriate content - such as obscene or violent videos - has also grown rampant. The problem poses a challenge to both authorities and app makers. Analysts said these platforms must reform and focus on quality content if they want to survive.


An hostess broadcasts live on the Internet at an entertainment media company in Taicang, East China's Jiangsu Province on March 10. Photo: CFP

Luo Junfan, a 21-year-old senior at Communication University of China in Beijing, has recently been given a taste of Internet fame.

About a month ago, Luo posted a video clip in which he introduced himself and played a little guitar. After the clip went up, Luo's followers surged by 2,000 overnight.

Soon after, some of his followers encouraged him to do live broadcasts on Meipai, which the website launched in January. Luo, aspiring to be an actor someday, agreed, thinking that live broadcast could be a good way to build up a following.

"I only did five or six live broadcasts on Meipai in the past month, talking about music or popular TV shows with my audience, and now I have around 20,000 followers on Meipai," he told the Global Times Thursday.

Luo is one of the young people in China who are driving the popularity of live broadcasts. There were about 200 million users of live streaming platforms in China by the end of 2015, said a report released on April 28 by the Internet consultancy iiMedia Research.

Live streaming app users are typically people born in the 1990s or 2000s who are eager to express themselves, said Zhang Yi, CEO of iiMedia.

"The sector is quite promising, and it can be considered an upgrade to the current way of social networking," Zhang told the Global Times Thursday.

An industry in form

When there is demand, there is a market.

By the end of 2015, there were about 200 live streaming apps operating in China, representing an industry that is now worth some 9 billion yuan ($1.39 billion), according to the iiMedia report.

With its large user base and clear business model, live streaming has already formed a complete industrial chain in China, said Pang Yiming, an analyst at Beijing-based consultancy Analysys International.

"The excitement for live streaming is unlikely to fade away soon, unlike what happened with many other one-time hit apps," Pang told the Global Times Friday.

Both broadcasters and the platforms have figured out clear ways to make money. For example, on the popular live streaming app Ingkee, followers can purchase virtual coins and give them to their favorite broadcasters, who can then cash them out later.

"Sometimes, I can make even more money on these apps than I can performing," said Chen Huan, a 28-year-old singer in Beijing who occasionally makes live broadcasts on, also a live streaming website.

The singer told the Global Times Saturday that in a good month she can make about 40,000 yuan though live broadcasting.

Working with marketers also pays. Popular broadcasters can promote products to their audiences. For instance, a cyber celebrity can promote cosmetics brands while she demonstrates how to put on makeup. The apps can act as an agent for such cooperation, or they can directly put commercials on their platforms, analysts said.

The huge potential for advertising has drawn interest from Internet giants both in China and abroad. Twitter, for example, acquired US-based Periscope in January 2015 before the live streaming app was publicly launched.

In August 2015, Facebook launched its "livestream" function, though the function is currently only available to celebrities.

For China's Internet giants and venture capital firms, the trend is something that they cannot afford to miss. Social networking giant Tencent Holdings launched its own live streaming app on April 26. Prior to that, it invested in two live broadcasting apps: and

Other leading Internet firms like Baidu Inc and handset maker Xiaomi Inc have also launched their own live streaming apps, according to recent media reports.

Challenges remain

Despite of the sector's popularity and potential, it has spawned its share of problems.

Vulgar content is rampant on live streaming apps. "If you want to be popular on these apps, it is all about pretty faces or being fun," said Li Yinmei, a senior at Beijing Opera Art College.

The content of some broadcasters is, as Luo put it, "low." "Some have even broadcasted themselves eating a raw chicken," he said.

In January, the inappropriateness got extreme when two users of live broadcasted themselves having sex. The website cut off the broadcast two minutes after it started, but the incident got enough attention to lead to calls for greater supervision.

From February to April, several ministries, including the Ministry of Public Security, launched an investigation into the sector. Authorities punished 19 live streaming apps for broadcasting obscene or violent content.

There are also issues with intellectual property. Some users may broadcast unauthorized movies, analysts said.

Such problems have also created challenges for the platforms because it's incredibly time and labor intensive to inspect every single video, said Pang, the analyst from Analysys International.

Looking ahead, live streaming apps have the potential to go beyond social networking and serve as platforms to spread knowledge and professional skills, analysts said. "But quality content is the key for these apps' future development," Pang said.

Competition remains fierce and the sector needs to consolidate. Although there are currently around 200 players, only a few of them will survive, "just like what happened in the group-buying sector," Zhang said.

Newspaper headline: China’s live streaming fever

Posted in: Insight

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