China's Fascination with Live Streaming Scales New Heights

| Jul 17, 2017 09:42 AM EDT

(Photo : Wikimedia)

It's simply impossible to ignore the popularity of online streaming among Chinese people. In China alone there are reportedly over 150 different live streaming platforms for viewers looking for just about any form of real-time entertainment they want online.

This live streaming phenomenon has resulted in a new $4.3bn industry that's literally exploded before our very eyes with no signs of stopping - particularly as Huachuang Securities predict China's live streaming industry could be worth nearly $16bn by the turn of the next decade. Some suggest that the typical demographic of Chinese people engrossed in live streaming are those seeking free entertainment - with the live streaming industry set to outpace cinema box office receipts within a matter of years - and, in some instances, a substitute for romance.

The most popular live streamers tend to be young and attractive singers - many of whom have been able to build eye-watering fanbases of millions of fans from the comfort of their own homes. So, which industries are faring best when it comes to live streaming across China?

Individuals that shine a spotlight onto their everyday lives

The vast number of platforms available to stream from has enabled even everyday "plain Janes" aged around 21 to earn 30 times more than the average Chinese university graduate, just by documenting everything they do at home through their smartphone or tablet devices. Whether these individuals see their popularity wane in the coming months remains to be seen. In an attempt to raise the bar to market entry and improve the overall quality of domestic live streaming, China's Ministry of Culture (MOC) implemented new regulations regarding online streaming at the end of 2016, but that hasn't stopped the Chinese from both watching with fascination and broadcasting.

A fusion of live streaming and online gaming

The China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) recently revealed data on the usage share of live video streaming content in China, with streams of online gaming increasing its revenue from 16.5% in June 2016 to 20% in December 2016. The success of gameplay broadcasting platforms such as Huya Broadcasting and Douyu - the latter of which announced two significant rounds of external financing totalling $100m in March 2016 and RMB 1.5bn in August 2016 - would suggest video game streaming and digital publishing is here to stay, with audiences increasingly happy to immerse themselves in a virtual world.

The broad spectrum of live streaming applications used today

Live streaming is equally big business. It's used today for all kinds of entertainment and leisure purposes, as well as in the corporate world. Social media still has arguably the closest link with live streaming, with applications allowing users to stream content and link to directly to their social media profiles.

Facebook Live continues to top the charts of live streaming apps, according to data from UBS Evidence Lab and Statista, with 17% of American internet users preferring this to any other streaming application; closely followed by YouTube (16%), Snapchat (12%) and Periscope (9%). This year, bandwidth to video traffic is expected to total 74% of all internet use. Aside from live streaming to social media profiles, live streaming applications are used today to bring people closer to the action in more ways than one.

Twitter experimented with live streaming NFL games, reaching over 20 million NFL fans; and on the subject of sport, from the 2017/18 English football season, supporters based overseas will be able to subscribe to watch live streams of their teams in action through the iFollow app. Gaming operators like Betway, also incorporate live streaming in their online casino games, connecting their players - who like a gamble just like in real life - to a casino-like real-life table, where dealers deal their cards or spin the roulette wheel for them in real-time and interact with players via a chat box.

Bringing fans of pop stars and bands closer to their idols

(Photo : Wikimedia)

It's always worth noting the impact live streaming has had on the Chinese music industry. Returning back to the CNNIC's report on the usage share of live video streaming, there was a 2% increase in live streams from music concerts between June and December 2016, totalling 15.1% of all streamed content in China by the end of the year.

Social network behemoth Tencent has been video streaming music events in-house or via third parties for almost a decade, with more than half of their concert stream audiences coming from towns and cities where the biggest musicians rarely visit. One of China's most celebrated pop stars, Jolin Tsai entertained approximately 40 million people within 48 hours through the Tencent platform; while the Strawberry Music Festival regularly attracts millions of online views a year.

Last year, live stream entertainers in China were estimated to be earning more in hourly revenue than TV, radio and all other media combined; an incredible statistic and one that sets the tone for the next decade and beyond for online entertainment in China.

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