Note: This article has been translated from a Chinese article titled “女主播不露肉月入不足5000？来听听主播们的故事” found on the leading digital media Wechat account Xinbang (新榜). The original article can be found on the Xinbang account which you can add by scanning the QR code at the bottom of this article.
Pretty girls putting on a show is the most classic type of live video, its earliest inception being video chat rooms and online karaoke platforms. In most cases beautiful hosts (at least that’s how the camera makes them look), use singing and dancing to please the audience who send them virtual gifts which they earn money from. In the past, before the prevalence of mobile live video apps, live video could only be viewed on PCs and therefore host’s main goal was to please zhainan (the Chinese term for nerdy guys who like to stay home on their computer). To do this they spent a great deal of time creating the perfect atmosphere, from the decoration of the room, their clothing, the time they broadcasted, their performance content and the way they spoke. They tended to speak in a warm tone of voice yet the content was quite vague and superficial. Often their performance included a bit of flirting and sexual implications, which will help them get gifts.
However now, with the rise of mobile live streaming, there are a lot of pretty faces and not enough sugar daddies. The influencer economy is rapidly expanding and pretty hosts can not only sell their smiles but they can also sell talent, sell products, and sell an interesting location or event. With unlimited numbers of hosts to watch, its much harder to achieve rapid success with this type of live video than before and hosts are having to pivot and use more creative methods to retain their followers.
Zheng Dian signed with a live streaming talent agency in January 2016. There were over 30 girls in her onboarding group and several months later most of them had quit. The agency had a partnership with Douyu TV; video hosts must come to the agency office for at least 3 hours each day to do live video. Because the hosts signed with an agency they faced pressure to meet monthly quotas of gifts, they needed to earn 20,000 rmb worth of gifts otherwise they wouldn’t receive their base salary, instead they would only receive a small cut of the income from the gifts they earned. Where did they rest of the money go? Well first the video platform will take a cut, then the agency, then the agent, then taxes will be taken out, then finally the host would receive whatever was left over. Out of a 500 rmb rocket gift the host might only receive 50 rmb.
Besides taking a portion of host’s earnings every month, the agents at this company didn’t actually do anything. There was no training and hosts were left to figure out how to entertain viewers on their own. The only way that some girls could get gifts was by wearing provocative clothing and broadcasting late at night. Zheng Dian was not fond of this method and it showed, her monthly earnings were less than 5000 rmb. What bothers her the most was that this type of paid labor video hosting didn’t give her a chance to perform and there was limited space for development.
Fed up, Zheng Dian quit her job and found another position doing live streaming on a commission basis for an online shopping site that works with a lot of Korean cosmetic brands. With this company Zheng Dian had more freedom to be more creative, she could use mobile live streaming on Ingkee to film wherever she liked instead of in a room at an office. She started participating in modeling competitions and would film herself in the dressing room applying makeup (the company’s products) before the competition. The results were pretty good! And what’s more, unlike the previous company, this new company was responsible for content planning and promotion, resource development and partnerships with various platforms. The hosts just have to be pretty and be themselves.
However, live streaming is not the end game. Zheng Dian is also interested in the online TV show industry. She hopes that through live video she can amass a large following and eventually get opportunities to participate in online shows, giving her another income source.
As we can see from Zheng Dian’s story, a pretty face isn’t a scare resource and it’s going to become harder and harder for hosts to earn a living relying on beauty alone. The video platforms are going to continue to increase their share of the profits, and new beautiful hosts will join the industry every day. To succeed in the future, hosts will need better training and more diversified business opportunities.
For a long time, videos were the main way for gamers to learn techniques from the pros. Now, using live streaming, gamers get a greater sense of collaboration, participation, and excitement. Currently computer game live streaming includes two main types of content, one is famous gamer exhibition games, which utilize their fame and incredible skills to attract viewers. Second is famous online gaming competitions such as the League of Legends World Championship and the International Dota 2 Championships.
Compared to the previous “eye candy” type of show, gamers are not relying solely on gifts from viewers to make money. The sponsorship model for the Chinese gaming industry is already quite mature and the players often receive offers for advertising, selling apparel, product placement etc. Furthermore, sponsorship opportunities are increasing as gaming culture in China is slowly moving from subculture into the mainstream.
T-REX is a comprehensive online entertainment company focusing on gaming as well as the development and training of online entertainment influencers. They’ve signed a multitude of small online stars and over 100 gaming influencers. The company’s CEO Yu Kun believes that China’s 300 million gamers not only have gaming needs but other entertainment needs as well. Currently T-REX has launched a huge campaign to create an elite women’s gaming team called “TRex Star”.
To do this they have created a country wide competition, with a live online gaming selection process. The top 100 girls will become part of the team. In order to make the competition more entertaining and give the girls more star power, the company is investing heavily in training the girls, with classes on pronunciation, tongue twisters, exercise, acting, singing, etiquette, etc. Furthermore, they have developed a full promotional plan for the group, including stage performances, song recordings, music videos, internet dramas, as well as participating in a big screen film.
Another popular live streaming gamer who has signed with TRex, Xiao Cang, says she has additional plans for her career as well. She hopes to continue steadily expanding her presence in the gaming industry and then begin to add in additional types of live streaming such as offline games and games that incorporate both online and offline. She cites one example of how once she went caving in New Zealand. But she has also explored caves in online games. She feels that there are potential ways to mix online real life experiences with online experiences and bring her viewers a greater sense of participation.
Live streaming is allowing online gamers to crossover into mainstream entertainment markets. By combining multiple forms of entertainment, such as gaming + travel, gaming + celebrities, gaming + movies, gamers can experience several forms of entertainment at once, while also allowing non-gamers to enter the gaming world.
Outdoor live video refers to getting out of the typical home or studio setting and using cameras and phones, tripods, phone chargers, wireless cards and other equipment to share the world with your audience. Because there is typically minimal set up and no editing, the rawness of the footage captures the audience’s attention and makes them feel as if they are there with the host.
All sorts of outdoors live streaming content have appeared, from traveling and making BBQ to off the wall content such as capturing ghosts and grave robbing. While the content options are endless, outdoor live streaming is subject to many external factors such as internet connection, unpredictable sounds and lighting which has kept it from becoming wildly popular. What’s more, much of the UCG (user generated content) is not consistent. One host might do something really interesting that gives them a burst of popularity, but they are unable to continue producing excellent content and sustain the momentum. Furthermore, the majority of these amateur hosts do not have the business savvy to get sponsorships and other business opportunities. This means that there is currently an unfilled void in the outdoor live streaming industry, which has great potential for planned out, well-shot PCG (professionally generated content).
In late September 2015, three hosts with acting experience, formed a live streaming company, the Thunderbolt Guys. This company not only professionally plans out and executes live streaming content, but they also have team members who are responsible for seeking out media and sponsorships. They focus on outdoor live streaming and have shot a variety of content including travel to remote islands, street scenes, classrooms, racing around a car racetrack as well as hilarious events such as the First Annual Popsicle Tasting Contest.
Although they are a grassroots team, their work is very professional quality. A day or two before filming they will plan out their content, timing, locations, write a simple script, organize staff and prepare equipment. A day before the broadcast they will do a run-through, repeatedly checking the quality of the internet signal and creating a backup plan just in case. After the live stream they will summarize the content and then start on the next project. For larger campaigns and events, they will begin the planning even further ahead of time.
To create a loyal following, the Thunderbolt Guys created several fan groups (more than 7 QQ groups with 2,000 people each) and started holding online events. They are also continuously trying to create unique offline content, such as theater performances and charity events.
For outdoor live streaming the barriers to entry are low, and unlike traditional TV and internet platforms, the content options are unlimited and flexible, the programing is interactive and in real time. Now more and more organizations are joining the broadcast trend, this is the blue ocean in the live streaming industry, and there is not yet a clear model for long term success.
Maybe to the surprise of some, this type of content is pretty common and is not extremely eye-catching. It is difficult to sustain momentum and this type of host must work hard to customize their content to suit the ever-changing needs of their audience. They must always be providing new content and new programs otherwise their audience will get bored.
Feng Xiao Zheng is an incredible performer, having won Kugou’s singer of the year award as well as YY’s host of the year award. She started off singing on a platform called 5sing. Due to her cute appearance and sweet voice, she was noticed by several artists who worked with her to write some original songs. Later on she began live streaming on 6 Rooms and YY, in 2014 she signed with YY to become an official YY host. Her live stream performances are similar to a concert, singing for several hours on end and taking requests from audience members who send her a certain amount of gifts. There are usually an average of 20,000 people online watching her show at any given time.
In addition to live streaming, Feng Xiao Zheng has also recorded her own online album and recorded music videos. However, this year with the explosion of live streaming platforms, Feng Xiao Zheng felt a massive change in the live streaming environment and the number of people viewing her show dropping dramatically. In order to maintain her popularity, she upped her live streaming shows from 4 to 6 days a week, and in addition to live streaming she also spends more time chatting with her fans. Due to this, the time that she gets to spend on her singing career has decreased significantly.
She knows that her current model is unsustainable and has tried pivoting, albeit unsuccessfully. Previously she started her own live streaming influencer agency, but she didn’t have any experience with operations or a good team so after a while she had no choice but to sell the company off. Her plight reflects the difficult situation of many independent live streaming hosts; without a good team and professional support behind them they have trouble developing their career. Talent alone is not enough as it is difficult to retain fans who are always searching for newer and better things to watch.
Another performing host is Yoda Hao Ye who became popular on the Weibo for his crazy portraits of fans. As live streaming became popular he tried live streaming his painting but found that it was hit or miss. Hao Ye feels that live streaming hosts and TV hosts are very similar – talent in never enough, you need a platform behind you. In the end he decided to join a live streaming variety show on Panda TV’s Durian Entertainment Channel instead of live streaming solo. The program is similar to a talk show with multiple hosts playing games and chatting. With this format, instead of his talents being the focus of the show, they have just become an added bonus.
Its worthwhile to note that live streaming professionals do not have to be limited to performers alone. Live streaming hosts can earn money through customized services, for example, a customized product. Viewers could participate in the design and production process, joining in every step of the way. Or customized services, from checking out real estate and event locations, to helping people take care of the elderly. All of these opportunities are available, its as easy as opening up a live streaming account. The problem is how to promote your services? How to get customers? Again it comes back to that idea, professional talent needs a professional team to run their operations.
Wang Sicong, the son of China’s richest man Wang Jianlin, recently spoke about this on the question-and-answer app Fenda. He said, “Live streaming will continue to gain popularity in China because it is a fresh new way to deliver information and entertainment and, what’s more, it is interactive. In the past we transitioned from radio to television and now society will transition to live streaming. Live streaming hosts and online influencers have become very popular, but it will be difficult for individual hosts to sustain their popularity. I firmly believe that live streaming platforms will become strong and stronger, while the popularity of individual hosts will rise and fall.”
Looking at the examples above, we can’t help agreeing with him.
Here are some overall trends:
Weibo, Wechat and other mainstream social media platforms are reaching their saturation points. At the same time, live streaming is coming in and filling users’ need for interaction and connection through a one – to – many platform operating in real-time. Live streaming offers entertainment, influencers, video, real-time, and socializing – all of today’s hottest buzzwords, all in one place. Many established online platforms are trying to capitalize on the trend by adding live video capabilities and dozens of new live streaming platforms are rapidly emerging. Live streaming will continue to grow, profoundly changing the Chinese internet landscape.
Live streaming makes it easy to capture people’s attention and many live streaming hosts have grown large audiences quite rapidly (like me!). Because of this, many online influencers who became popular through other mediums are wanting to jump on the live streaming bandwagon for fear of being replaced by live streaming influencers. Yet many of them are having trouble crossing over. It’s difficult for comedians to come up with new material day in and day out, podcasters might feel uncomfortable in front of the camera and video influencers aren’t used to working off-script. Excluding celebrities who occasionally live stream, the biggest winners on live streaming apps will be rookies who fully understand and embrace this new type of media.
The era of PC live streaming was anything but authentic and there was little variety. Pretty girls would get all dolled up; they would set up perfect lighting and a cute backdrop and use sweet voices to call you into a fantasy world where everything was beautiful and they were in control. Flash forward to the introduction of mobile live streaming. Now anyone can live stream from anywhere. People no longer want to enter a fantasy world, instead they want to use live streaming to get a glimpse into the real worlds that are different than their own. Viewers don’t expect perfection; they care more about interaction.
Occupation = function + industry. Every year new occupations are emerging as labor needs and societal needs are changing. With huge market demand and the growing number of commercial opportunities, we can see that live stream hosting has already undoubtedly become a new career. Successful hosts are already earning high salaries and massive amounts of people are trying out live streaming every day with the hopes of making it big. Right now many people are unaware that live streaming can be a career, but as the industry develops, this occupation will achieve greater social recognition.
Audiences are fickle and love to hop from host to host, following whatever is hottest at the moment. So far it appears that the lifespan of a live stream host is significantly shorter than that of other content producers. As we mentioned, most hosts are amateur and don’t understand what it takes to sustain an audience. The market is not lacking beautiful faces and talented performers, what it is lacking is the development, training, management and promotion needed to create long- lasting stars.