Thanks to easy access to the Internet, China’s netizens now have a lot more options to entertain themselves through watching live streaming videos or short comedic videos.

At about 5 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon in May, this web celeb Xing Xiaoyiao started a live video stream on Yizhibo, one of the major live streaming apps in China, and gave her “fans” a tour of her apartment in Shanghai. Guess how many people were watching her in real time? A little over 820,000.

Web celeb Xing talking to fans during a live video stream. Screenshot from Yizhibo.
Web celeb Xing talking to fans during a live video stream. Screenshot from Yizhibo.

Xing became an Internet sensation in China last year after uploading her makeup tutorials online, surprising netizens with how different she looked before and after. Now, she has over 3.7 million followers on Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter. By going live regularly on Yizhibo, Xing is able to maintain her fan base by talking about her personal life. She also receives virtual gifts from viewers that can be later redeemed for cash.

Here’s what it is like to be a live streaming web celebrity in China. Most of the “anchors” – the way they call themselves – are good looking and have some special talents to show off. Some sing in front of the camera, while some display their cooking talents. Another anchor under the moniker Shiniligongziah, for example, was showing off his stir-frying skill.

Shiniligongziah displaying his cooking skills in a live video stream on Yizhibo, where 30,000 viewers were watching in real time. Screenshot from Yizhibo.
Shiniligongziah displaying his cooking skills in a live video stream on Yizhibo, where 30,000 viewers were watching in real time. Screenshot from Yizhibo.

2016 is believed to be a banner year for live streaming in China. Hundreds of live video streaming apps emerged in China with a market estimated to be valued at RMB 20.8 billion (about USD 3 billion), according to Internet market research company iResearch. As of December 2016, there were more than 344 million netizens watching live streaming apps in China, data from CNNIC shows.

While live streaming might have seemed promising in 2016, there is talk in the industry that the year 2017 would see a much slower growth in the live streaming market as short videos are taking off as a new approach for quick entertainment. According to data research firm Jiguang, the user base for short video sharing apps has reached 130 million as of January 2017.

In terms of distribution, short videos are certainly more effective than live video streams. Netizens tend to share polished edited short videos as opposed to live videos. However, live streaming provides better audience interaction experience than short videos.

It is hard to say which approach is better. So companies in China are trying to strike a balance to synergize both methods. Founded in 2011, video sharing platform Kuaishou allows users to record videos and share moments from their daily lives. Users can also broadcast their own live streaming videos and interact with other users. The company just closed its Series D financing round at USD 350 million in March led by Tencent.

Papi Jiang, one of China’s most viral web celebrities, is considered the most successful web celeb leveraging on the short video trend. With her fast-talking comedic short videos, she has accumulated 44 million followers across multiple platforms in less than a year, according to the New York Times.

As the wave of short videos catches on, it looks like online celebrity wannabes have a lot more to learn — maybe learning to edit videos for a start. Content is king, after all.

(Top photo screenshot from Yizhibo)

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Timmy Shen
Timmy is a writer at AllChinaTech. He's passionate about photography, education, food and all things tech. He holds a master's degree from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Write to him: timmy[at]allchinatech.com

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