Despite all the brouhaha around internet celebrities and KOLs, it turns out that money is the top reason why Chinese users decide to livestream, not fame.
In a report released by Tencent on Monday, out of 4525 Chinese netizens surveyed, 43% of those who are willing to be livestream hosts would do so for the money. The second most popular response, at 34.6%, was livestreaming as a way to “kill time.” Survey respondents could pick more than one response in their answer, the other options being livestreaming for fun (32%), to share life experiences (22.2%), or to gain followers (17.9%).
The results illustrate one of the key differences between Chinese livestreaming platforms and their Western counterparts: digital gifts. In China, audience members can tip livestreaming hosts with digital gifts that are later converted into real money through the platform. On YY, one of China’s leading livestreaming platforms, for example, digital gifts range from 0.1 RMB – applause, a lollipop, fruit candy – to 1314 RMB, a luxurious cruise ship. Users who tip – especially those who tip generously – are usually thanked and acknowledged by the host during the show.
“For me, at periods of high traffic, I can earn hundreds of thousands [of RMB] each month,” a livestreaming host on Chinese social networking app Momo told TechNode.
The host, whose stage name is Hong Xiaoqiao (洪小乔), started livestreaming when she was 21 years old, dropping out of college to do it full-time. She runs her livestreaming show every night, a mix of singing and conversation. Each episode lasts at least three hours, she says. During the day, Hong Xiaoqiao will also livestream, albeit more casually, and chat with some of her more dedicated followers.
“I prepare ahead of time,” she says. “I’ll think about today’s conversation topic and get the background music ready. Half an hour ahead of the show, I do my makeup, get my clothes ready, and set up the background music.”
Of course, not all livestreaming hosts are as successful as Hong Xiaoqiao, but for those who can attract and keep loyal followers, livestreaming as a full-time job is a real possibility.
They don’t have to be wildly famous to gain traction as a livestreaming host either. According to Tencent’s report, audience members aren’t necessarily attracted to well-established wanghong or internet celebrities. Though about a third said that they liked watching internet celebrities livestream, another third said that they didn’t care who the livestreaming host was, as long as they were “good-looking.”
Tencent’s report, which studied Chinese Android app users for the month of May, also reaffirmed the gender inbalance of mobile livestreaming platforms. About two-thirds of livestream users are men, most of them either 19 years old and younger, or 21 to 29 years old, reported Tencent’s results.
Over the past few months, major livestreaming platforms, such as YY, Panda TV, and Douyu TV, have attracted the scrutiny of government regulators, who are cracking down on lewd content. In particular, female livestreaming hosts are facing new rules, such as Douyu TV’s point system, that punish hosts for wearing salacious outfits (link in Chinese). However, curbing sexual content will pose additional challenges to China’s content moderators, as hosts are often encouraged to dance sexually or change into more sexually appealing clothing by audience members, who then reward hosts for doing so with digital gifts.