Having received a joint investment of over $1 million USD, Papi Jiang is considered one of China’s most successful internet celebrities, or ‘wang hong’. Globally, she still has a long way to go.
Outside of China, internet celebrities like Swedish Youtube star ‘PewDiePie’ are making as much as $12 million USD in one year.
“How is it that Youtubers in the [West] can be both influential and make a profit?” says Ivy Wong, the CEO of VS Media, a multi-channel network (MCN) for video content producers in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and mainland China.
“The most important thing is that they have a lot of MCNs […] between brands and internet celebrities to help them create better content and monetize it.”
On Tuesday, VS Media and Discovery Communications, the company behind the Discovery Channel, jointly announced a strategic partnership, which includes an undisclosed amount of funding from Discovery Communications and a new 26 million RMB (about $3.9 million USD) fund for VS Media’s media entrepreneurs. VS Media will leverage the new partnership to bring Chinese internet celebrities overseas and foreign stars into China.
“We want to make China’s internet celebrity economy more professional, more standard, and more international,” says Ms. Wong. “We actually have a lot of internet celebrities with great content but don’t know how to improve their video quality.”
“By giving them more resources and money, they can change their content from UGC [user generated content] to PGC [professional generated content] to IP [intellectual property],” she says.
VS Media calls itself the “voice of young Chinese.” According to Ms. Wong, the average video content creator on VS Media is in their 20’s, though the platform has creators as young as four years old. Video clips are short, just a few minutes long, and are distributed to other content platforms such as Meipai, a Chinese video editing app.
In addition to marketing and distribution services, VS Media also provides film equipment, training, and production support. The company is also working on several IP projects, including a virtual reality travel series, a feature on eSports in China, and a show about Chinese millennial fashion.
“Around the world there are young Chinese people, so we’ve never thought about changing our content to fit Western tastes,” says Ms. Wong. The main barrier to globalizing Chinese video content is access to international platforms like Youtube, not the actual content itself, she says.
It’s not clear whether or not Chinese internet celebrities can appeal to non-Chinese audiences, but that might not even matter. The Chinese diaspora was estimated to be about 50 million people in 2010, according to a report by investment firm Greater Pacific Capital. It’s a sizable market that Chinese internet celebrities could tap into in addition to the domestic market. Besides VS Media, Vice also features wang hong. However, for the most part, Chinese internet celebrities will hire local agents or work with local companies to find and seal deals with brands inside China.
According to VS Media, the platform currently has over 500 video content creators. Founded in 2013, the Hong Kong-based company set up its first office in mainland China last summer and received an undisclosed amount of funding from China Media Capital in June.
Correction (8/4/2016 15:48): This post was updated to correct a mistake about Papi Jiang’s valuation.