China’s live streaming goes beyond singing and dancing

By Doris Li and Roy Huang

Live streaming is not new, but as with anything, China’s take on it has created a new phenomenon. In 2015 China’s so called ‘live-stream economy’ generated an estimated value of AU$11 billion, a figure that surpassed China’s total box office sales for the year.

Behind Alibaba’s record-breaking sales figure of AU$23.8 billion on the Singles’ Day shopping event this year, there was an integration of hyped technologies where live streaming played a big part.  The Chinese cosmetic distributor Lirenlizhuang Cosmetics managed to get major media attention during Singles’ Day by hosting a 10-hour live pre-sale. The live streamed product showcase was hosted by the top Chinese cyber celebrity Papi Jiang, who charged AU$4.4 million for her ‘first commercial show’. 

But, as asked by the Chinese media, was it worth the money? The numbers speak for themselves: the pre-sale live streaming was watched by over 1.5 million online shoppers and generated AU$40 million within 10 hours, while the company’s total sales on Singles’ Day was estimated to reach AU$200 million.

China’s mobilized and tech-savvy culture has taken live streaming to a whole new level. There are over 100 live streaming apps available in China’s mobile app store and this figure is constantly growing, with a new copycat being launched every few hours. Ingkee and Huajiao are among the most popular Chinese live streaming apps with huge user bases and have continuously been the top downloads in Apple’s China app store in the past months.

The number of live streaming app users reached 325 million at the end of this June, accounting for about 46% of China’s online population which is also the world’s largest. During peak hours, the various platforms could be attracting 4 million users online simultaneously, watching 3,000 different hosts streaming themselves, singing, dancing, acting cute, chatting about random topics or playing video games. 

Originating from webcam live streaming where female hosts performed erotically to attract viewers, China’s live streaming sector evolved quickly to move further beyond the entertainment territory to a more serious business domain. 

‘Live-streaming is the biggest internet trend in China today’, observed Alibaba’s Executive Vice Chairman Joe Tsai. Alibaba has been exploiting the live streaming buzz on Taobao since May, when it launched its own live broadcasting platform called Taobao Live. Singles Day is just an opportunity for Alibaba to amplify the concept on the global stage. 

Two weeks before Singles’ Day, Alibaba’s marketplace Tmall hosted an eight-hour interactive fashion show, ‘See Now, Buy Now’, in Shanghai which was streamed live online. Shoppers could use a ‘Buy Now’ button in the Tmall and Taobao mobile apps while watching the event to pre-order items from brands including Burberry, Paul Smith, Trussardi, and UGG.

The merging of live streaming and e-commerce is a rising trend to watch out for. Zhang Dayi, a 27-year-old online fashionista and internet celebrity in China, runs her online fashion shop on Taobao with average monthly sales of around AU$1.97 million. Anticipating the live streaming trend in China, Zhang started a two-hour live broadcast on Taobao Live in June this year, where she showcased her fashion products and shared some dressing tips with the viewers. According to the official figures published by Taobao, the live broadcasting was viewed by over 410 thousand people and generated over 1 million ‘Likes’. Transactions reached AU$4 million in Zhang’s Taobao shop within two hours.

Zhang is only one of the thousands of online shop owners who have seen the opportunity of online streaming. Since the launch in May, Taobao Live has been hosting over 500 live product showcases every day. 

Along with Alibaba, a number of cross border e-commerce platforms have also dived into the online streaming trend. Mogujie, a Chinese social-shopping startup, announced an investment of AU$60 million into an online influencer incubator program this year, aiming to nurture a group of influential live streaming hosts that can be hired by brands and companies. The platform has attracted over 40,000 registrations since its launch in May. The average daily sales have achieved a growth of 189% via a number of live streaming initiatives.

Chinese economists argue that the e-commerce plus live streaming model brings inestimable benefits to cross border businesses. It attracts new traffic, increases conversion to sales and most importantly, builds consumer trust in products that they are not familiar with. 

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