Live Streamers: The YouTubers of China

Live streamers dominate online entertainment in China. But who are they and what do they do?


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There’s no doubt about it: YouTubers have become mainstream entertainers for the generation that grew up with the internet. But what about in China, where access to YouTube is restricted by the Great Firewall?

Here, live streamers step in to fill the void. They are entertainers who broadcast themselves live on the internet, which can involve singing, dancing, or just talking about their lives. In other words, they are the YouTubers of China.

But how big really is the live streaming market in China? The answer is US$4.4 billion per year – the 2018 forecast for the live streaming market in China. And this number is only expected to keep growing.

Want to know more about the world of live streaming? Here are 3 facts about live streamers to get you started:

  1. 1 Live Streamers Produce Tons of Different Content


    There are many kinds of live streamers. Some sing, some dance, some make jokes, but that’s barely scratching the surface. The image above shows Hu Tongtong, a live streamer also known as “Big Stomach”. As her nickname implies, she broadcasts streams of herself eating humongous amounts of food. Her record is eating 93 eggs, 200 dumplings, 76 egg tarts, 5kg of hamburgers and 48 lamb kebabs...in one sitting.

    There are many other types of live streamers out there. Besides the more traditional entertainment focused live streamers who sing, dance, or chat with their fans, there are also gaming live streamers who stream themselves playing video games. Or even live streaming farmers who show viewers how life on a farm is like. There are educational live streamers who teach viewers certain skills. These include streaming a make-up tutorial, fitness routine tips, or instructions on how to make a dish. There are also live streamers who focus on e-commerce, introducing new products to viewers and streaming reviews or tutorials on how to use these products.

    Image from Alizila

    The last group of live streamers are transforming the e-commerce industry in China. In 2018, live streamers directed over US$15.1 billion to Alibaba’s Taobao Marketplace -  almost 4 times more than in 2017. One such live streamer is Jiaqi Li, or “Lipstick Brother,” who tries on 300 lipsticks a day. He once sold 15,000 lipsticks within 15 minutes. Beauty and fashion are the biggest categories in the Chinese live streaming market, which makes live streaming an e-commerce powerhouse for cosmetics companies.

  2. 2 Live Streamers are Bringing in the Big Bucks


    As you could probably guess by now, live streaming can be VERY lucrative. Successful live streamers can make about US$20,000-$40,000 a month.  The very top live streamers could sometimes make about US$150,000 or even over US$200,000 a month. Some live streamers have used live streaming to lift themselves out of financial hardship, such as former nurse Shen Man, who was struggling to take care of her bankrupt father before succeeding as a live streamer, or Liu Mama, a middle-aged farmer from Dongbei who amassed a huge following with her crude but candid mannerisms.

    However, only a small number of live streamers manage to reach such levels of fame. A Tencent survey showed that only 5% earn more than US$1,500 a month, while 70% earn less than US$15 a month.

    Vindictive fans who feel entitled to “possess” their idols could also pose a problem. For instance, Shen Man was verbally abused by her fans and lost much or her fan base after it was revealed that she dated a few of her patrons. Although live streaming can be a way for people to achieve stardom and wealth, it is ultimately still an unforgiving world out there.

  3. 3 Live Streamers Can Look Very Different in Real Life


    Filters, makeup, and lighting. There are many tricks a live streamer could use to make themselves look more beautiful. Sometimes this goes to the extreme. Recently, a viral video surfaced which showed live streamers putting on exaggerated, scary looking makeup...only to appear perfectly airbrushed on camera. To save you from the trauma, the video is not embedded: click on this link to watch the video...at your own peril.


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