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Monday, May 9, 2016, 10:37

Era of viewer-cum-broadcaster dawns

By Shi Jing in Shanghai

Interactive live video streams excite investors, performers, advertisers and audiences alike

Era of viewer-cum-broadcaster dawns

If you do not yet know what live video applications are, you probably need to broaden your business ken.

Offshoots of live netcasts of gaming action, streaming apps have already attracted millions of yuan in investment. Existing players in this new business segment organize live online interactive events and programs that generate business worth billions of yuan.

Collective viewership runs into hundreds of millions across China. One estimate projects business from this segment will likely exceed 100 billion yuan in 2020.

A popular form of live streaming involves charming chirpy casual young ladies called, rather unimaginatively, "hosts". They sing, dance, yak, engaging their audiences via personal computers and mobile phones. High-resolution screens are not required to enjoy the streamed content.

A more professional form is so-called live entertainment. A small group of subscribers get to watch these shows, which are usually about technology, financial topics or even concerts. These require higher screen resolution to enjoy sharper picture quality.

Last year saw an explosion of such live streaming apps and platforms. More than 100 were available on Apple's app store by the end of 2015. YY is among the leading apps. It features beautiful young women. Douyu features online games. Ingkee specializes in entertainment.

Not unexpectedly, leading Internet companies have jumped on the streaming bandwagon.

Tencent Holdings Ltd, which already owns a leading online gaming firm, launched a live video streaming platform called Longzhu . It also invested 400 million yuan (US$61.9 million) in Douyu in March.

Similarly, internet security and search company Qihoo 360 invested in a live video streaming platform called Huajiao .

Even online news labels have hopped into this space, making live video streaming technology integral to their media operations. For instance,, a popular online news provider, attracted 22 million viewers to its 2016 Spring Festival live travel show.

But it's not all hunky-dory. Stricter regulations loom over the segment. On April 14, the Ministry of Culture announced a list of platforms it suspects had streamed obnoxious shows of violent, sexual or criminal nature.

Yet, Huachuang Securities estimated the market value of online live shows was as much as 12 billion yuan in 2015. The figure could balloon to 106 billion yuan in 2020, it projected.

The advent of 4G technology, which facilitates superfast online traffic in heavy digital data, and high-resolution front cameras in mobile phones, has helped popularize the use of such apps among a large and growing group of people.

Zhuang Minghao, vice-president of Panda TV, a live video streaming platform, said more consumers will use the services. And, going forward, content would grow beyond video.

"There will be more competition in specific sectors. For example, gaming platforms may try to expand into other sectors and become a pan-entertainment platform. The ultimate goal is to engage the audiences for long periods of time on a single app," Zhuang said.

Live video streaming is not only chic entertainment for ordinary consumers but a good way to make some extra money for performers like entertainers and self-run business owners who make niche products or provide various services.

Zhao Yue, 22, works part-time as a host with Longzhu. In her full-time day job, she works as an online services operations executive with a yacht company. At night, Zhao hosts live shows, which are basically casual chats with her viewers. Her post-dusk exertions generate a monthly income of around 4,000 yuan. She says the night shift does not entail intensive work, so she is not unhappy.

"With more viewers joining the sector, the manager of the platform has been stressing that hosts should improve the quality and content of their interactions with the audience, and pay attention to physical appearance as well. Most of my audience are middle and high school students. They have found in this medium a good after-school recreation," she said.

Like Zhao, Gu Yunyi, 25, holds two jobs. She works full time in a financial company in Shanghai. She started to host online video shows in March, mostly driven by curiosity. The content is quite simple: streaming of gatherings with friends.

"A lot of professionals enjoy setting up another business in their spare time. For me, an online live show is a good choice. It might help to some extent in promoting my new physical store and online retail business as I'll be able to attract more fans with live shows. There are no high entry barriers in this line and the money is also quite satisfactory," she said.

Interactive online video content is a big hit with Chinese viewers, a fact that is driving the evolution of live streaming. According to China Consumer Trends 2016, a report published by global market consultancy Mintel, "interactive" is one of the four buzzwords in the consumer sector this year.

Consumers of content are willing to pay for high-quality, uninterrupted live streams. Mintel research highlights that video is the most popular format of online content consumed in China. As many as 83 percent of internet surfers watch videos on their desktops and 73 percent of tablet users view videos. Some 38 percent of Chinese consumers are paid subscribers of streams. Another 31 percent said they would be willing to try viewing pay streams.

"Among online media formats, video is a powerful storytelling instrument that can vividly convey a message and entertain an audience at the same time. With the 'new norm' of live streaming, everyone can be a content creator and a broadcaster, with true ownership of personal media content," said Philix Liu, Mintel's APAC trends analyst.

Live streams satisfy consumers' need for online interactions as Chinese netizens are highly social and active in voicing their opinions. It was the "bullet screen" feature, used in films and TV shows to beam viewer comments or remarks across the screen in real time, that sparked consumer interest in online participation, according to the report.

"Chinese e-commerce company Bolome is tapping into this interest in instant interaction by blending it with live streaming and online shopping. Live streaming also taps into many different aspects in consumers' daily life. Recently launched home robotics systems, such as A.I. Nemo, live-streams the happenings at home straight to the user's mobile device," said Liu.

Looking ahead, the possibilities brought by live video streams open up a whole new world of sensational experiences and entertainment to consumers. Live streaming is also an effective marketing channel for brands. With better video and recording technology, live streaming will be more interactive, more immersive and more universal, the report said.

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