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China's livestreaming industry mushrooming despite challenges

Two women are seen livestreaming. Photo: VCG

China's livestreaming industry has been booming over the past five years as networks are increasingly accessible to most of the country's massive population , and yet difficulties remain in the seemingly lucrative sector.

According to data from state-run China Internet Network Information Center (CINIC), China's livestreaming users have reached 425 million as of June, the largest in the world.

Of over 10,000 people surveyed by the CINIC, 85 percent watched livestreaming, and 54 percent were frequent users of the service.

The survey also revealed that men showed more interest in livestreaming than women, and 45 percent of them spent at least half an hour a day on it.

Of frequent users, 53 percent belonged to those born after 1990s, 24.5 percent after 1980s, and 15.7 percent after 1995s, according to the survey.

Seeing the massive potential consumers, a large number of young people, especially young women, in China chose livestreaming as their profession.

Some of them signed labor contracts with livestreaming companies for more business opportunities.

A report released by social media Momo on Tuesday showed that of 5,000 surveyed livestreamers, over 60 percent belonged to those born after 1990s and 78.8 percent were women.

To appeal to audiences who pay them in the form of digital gifts which can be cashed out after the platforms get their cut, livestreamers would sing, dance, tell jokes, and try every other means.

According to Momo, about one-fifth of full-time livestreamers can earn over10,000 yuan (US$1,500) a month, well above the Chinese average income level.

Currently, the market, which was estimated to be worth $50 billion in 2018, is dominated by platforms like Huya, Douyu, Huajiao, and YY.

Livestreaming industry's contribution to the development of Chinese economy is also recognized by state media like Xinhua News Agency which said in a news report that the boom has helped many people find jobs.

Challenges facing livestreamers

As livestreaming became popular in China, competition among livestreamers has intensified.

Some of the livestreamers have spent handsomely to improve their skills including singing and dancing, and upgrading their livestreaming equipment.

Momo's survey showed that over half of livestreamers spent over 1,000 yuan a month on self-improvement.

Because viewership peaks in the evening, livestreamers often work late at night.

Data revealed that 44 percent of them livestream between 7 pm and midnight, a big physical burden for them.

Meanwhile, streamlining industry is also hit by short videos these years, especially after the launch of Douyin, also known as TikTok in the English-speaking world.

Tired of watching livestreamers' repeated performances, a host of audiences have flocked to short video apps which enable them to see more interesting videos

Strict scrutiny

The livestreaming trend has not gone unnoticed by Beijing. The government has intensified its efforts to streamline the industry in recent years.

In 2016, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) rolled out policies to prohibit livestreamers from using the platforms to provide any content that could "endanger national security, undermine social stability, infringe on the legitimate rights and interests of others, and spread obscenity".

"The measures are aimed at promoting the healthy and orderly development of the livestreaming industry," said the CAC.

In the same year, the CAC shut down over 4,000 show rooms, and fired or punished over 18,000 livestreamers, citing obscene or crime-inciting content.

What captured the most attention were the falls of Chen Yifa and Yang Kaili last year, both of them were online celebrities with millions of fans on their livestreaming accounts.

Chen was banned from livestreaming for making jokes about the Nanjing Massacre, in which the Japanese army killed over 350,000 Chinese in China's then capital city of Nanjing in World War II.

Yang, in a separate development, was detained for five days after reportedly "insulting" the national anthem during a livestreaming, according to a police statement.


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