Editor’s note: A version of this post by Ruonan Zheng first appeared on Jing Daily, the leading digital publication on luxury consumer trends in China.
Last Tuesday, the winner of the prestigious South by South West Film Festival 2018 Grand Jury Award for documentary feature was screened in New York at an event co-hosted by our sister publication China Film Insider and Jing Daily. “People’s Republic of Desire” takes the viewer into the lucrative and exploitative world of YY.com, a NASDAQ-listed Chinese social media site focused on live video streaming.
As many luxury brands increasingly use livestreaming to attract fans and monetize that attention, they need to understand what’s driving the estimated $5-billion livestreaming juggernaut in China. Livestreamers can receive money from viewers—which has sent ordinary people on a quest to instant fame and fortune.
The film has gotten a wave of international attention as it races for the Oscar shortlist. Hollywood Reporter wrote: “Reckoning the cost of fame… a revealing examination of contemporary Chinese internet culture.” The film is also “provocative and unsettling as it brings us on a guided tour through the digital marketplace for something resembling human contact,” commented Variety.
The virtual world reflects the real world situation, where the class and wealth gap continues to widen in China. The rich are called tuhao—used to describe the nouveau riche, overnight rich, who are likely big-brand luxury shoppers—whereas diaosi —the poor —dream about the life that livestreamers have made for themselves.
The director, Hao Wu, a former executive of internet giants like Alibaba and Yahoo!, was interested in the mechanism behind this money-making machine. The totalitarian nature of the livestream platform should serve as a reminder to brands that they are actively participating in the game.
“Livestream has developed a complicated virtual universe that took me years to unpack, a universe encompassing idol worshipping, conspicuous consumption, status seeking, and layers upon layers of profit-making,” said Hao Wu.
What’s driving the craze is the China’s current social landscape. The one-child policy and urban migration have shaped a lonely millennial generation, as many have turned to the virtual world for meaningful connection and emotional release; the livestreaming platform keeps them hooked.